I remember in college having Strunk & White's Elements of Style pounded into my head daily, with the all-powerful RULE #17 touted above all else. This is a crime that many writers (yours truly included) fall into, but when it comes to genre writing, particularly fantasy, the transgressions seem to pile up, one atop the other. How many times have I had to read a sentence that contained 2 nouns (usually "sword" and "head" or some variation thereof) and approximately 37.6 adjectives?
Too many, I tell you. There's a fine line between description and "padding" and when that padding's noticeable, it's a deadly eyesore that can kill the flow and pacing of an otherwise good story.
Enter David Gemmell and Legend, his debut novel from 1984.
Legend is classified as "heroic fantasy" - the story of Druss the Legend, a master warrior whose exploits have becomes the stories told around campfires and inns, to children and to soldiers. When a barbarian tribe called the Nadir threaten to overtake the Drenai empire Druss, now in his sixties and looking for an end to his legend, takes up his ax one more time to hold Dros Delnoch, the final fortress and last barrier between Ulric, King of the Nadir, and the Drenai empire. It's a story of an epic battle, of warrior kings and farmer soldiers, magical powers human emotions, and as great as the story (the first in a series of books focusing on the world, but a stand-alone novel in its own right) is, it's similar to dozens of novels and film's you've probably read or seen over the years.
So why do I love Legend so much, and recommend it so highly?
All the credit goes to Gemmell, who manages to write the unholy $#@! (insert your favorite curse word here) out of this story. This is a Lord of the Rings, Helm's Deep sized battle, with a large cast of characters, taking place over weeks, and he wraps it all up in 340 pages. Not a sentence is spared on anything but propelling the story forward, fleshing out character motivations, intrigues, and elements that launch Legend from merely being "another fantasy book" into a master example of how the form can remain fresh and exciting. It presents the sides of the war in such a way that even as you root for the underdogs, knowing there's no possible way they can win, you understand and can see the motivations and the perspective from the encroaching enemies as well, as Gemmell if nothing else is very clear that good and evil is entirely dependent on which side you're on, and that empires rising and falling is a natural as the revolutions of a wheel.
If you're looking for huge fights, great characters, morals and motivations that aren't cookie cut out for you, and want to just experience some great writing to boot, David Gemmell in general and Legend in particular is a great place to get a fix.