Book #25: The King Beyond the Gate

When I started my long journey back towards fantasy, David Gemmell's Legend was one of the books I picked up, as an example of the "heroic fantasy" genre. As my review of that books states, I loved it. Gemmell takes all the wonder and epic-ness that are numerous 1,000+ page novels, and distills the action to its essence, usually in about 300 pages. He's a prime example of saying more with less, and Legend showed that you don't need a trilogy to tell a thrilling tale.

The really great thing about Gemmell's premise for his Drenai Saga is that it's the land, more than the characters, that connect the stories. The King Beyond the Gate takes place a good 100 years after events in Legend. Despite the heroics that came before, the land of Drenai has been corrupted by Ceska, an insane leader who has used ancient technologies to create Joinings - horrific were-beasts made from former soldiers and the like. For reasons of his Tenaka Khan, half Drenai and half Nadir (and a direct descendant of the two opposed leaders from Legend's great battle) wants Ceska dead, and he'll go to any lengths to ensure that happens. A former member of the Dragon, am elite group of soldiers that fought for Drenai, he now must make due with an assortment of characters to hold off the very kingdom he had sworn to protect before.

There are definite carryovers from Legend - the mystical Thirty return to assist Tenaka and his friends, and there are numerous references to major characters from that book. But The King Beyond the Gate serves as a great stand-alone novel that's only further enriched by knowledge of the book that came before it. Gemmell again uses his journalistic skills to keep everything moving at a quick pace, and the only time this backfires on him is when it comes to defining the romance between Tenaka and his lover, Renna (I think) - everything happens so quickly that the romance, similar to how it did in Legend, feels a little mechanical.

But that's a small price to pay for what is a great book of what it means to defend your way of life, and the prices we have to accept to do that. In order to win, Tenaka must take hold of his heritage as the King of the savage Nadir, and though you want him to be the different leader, the one who manages to introduce compassion and brotherhood to the Nadir and Drenai, both Tenaka and Gemmell know where the path ultimately has to go, and The King Beyond the Gate's epilogue, with its few sentences, reminds us that even fantasy is slave to the greed and machinations of man.