Sword in the Storm by David Gemmell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Following the adventures of Connavar from childhood to hero, this is an intense book sternly loyal to the archetypes of sword and sorcery. For those who are fans of the style, it is atmospheric and immersive, a skillful take on those underlying tropes. The dark mystery of magic, the evils of civilization, the glories of battle ... it's exactly as old-school sword and sorcery should be. There is nothing new here, but it's homage rather than derivation.
... mostly. There are a few spots, particularly later in the book, where I felt that the author was adhering to The Formula rather than thoughtfully applying the circumstances of his world and characters to the plot. I just didn't buy some of Connavar's later bursts of rage, except that they were "in style" for the subgenre. I do agree with other reviewers that these made me lose a lot of sympathy for the character.
And the sex. Oy, the sex. More graphic than I wanted, thank you. However, once you get past the first eighty pages or so, the scenes become the kind of "gentle fade" that really seemed all that was necessary to make the point. Beats me.
Also, there are several phrases used - particularly in these sex scenes, but also in some of the healing / injury descriptions - that seem really modern. I am sorry, I can't see a character in the period described in Sword in the Storm saying, "Was it good for you, too?"
That aside, I did enjoy much of this book. It's a leisurely style you can't get away with much any more, unfolding back to the character's first days and watching him grow ... while still holding the reader and making you want to read on. There's a real pleasure in this long-term development, and the secondary characters grow and change in satisfying ways, as well. Connavar may be a lone hero, but he's also part of a vibrant community.
But - and this is why the book ultimately gets three stars from me, not four - in the end, the conflict we've been promised and foreshadowed through the vast majority of the book never materializes. I didn't even feel like the ending was a real ending. This might be forgiveable in a more compact work, but for me, you can't provide a sprawling life story and then stop before the epicenter, even with a promised sequel.
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