In writing reviews of fantasy, everybody makes mention of those derivative books of sword and sorcery which lack imagination and either borrow exclusively from previous works (think Terry Goodkind) or possess so many archetypes that the whole book becomes cliché (think the DRAGONLANCE series). Everybody knows these cardboard Conans and Gandalfs wielding battleaxes, wands, and uttering the worst one-liners published today. But these comments about garbage fantasy are always directed to the “others” — someone else — never the work under review. Nobody wants to step on any toes.
David Gemmell’s Dark Moon is pure genre fantasy. This is one of the books everyone is indirectly referring to when they mention derivative fantasy. Reptilian uni-mind creatures attack innocent people for no reason. Check. A female fighter who acts and talks like a man. Check. Gouts of random magic within an undefined system. Check. Castle wall siege including tunneling. Check. And so on.
I once read an interview with Gemmell, who said something to the effect of: “I don’t plan anything when I’m writing. I just take an idea and run with it.” Well, it shows in Dark Moon. The story is a jumbled mess. Too many things are packed in disorderly fashion into such a small book. Ultimate evil cannibal bad guys have a sudden change of heart and promise to love everybody. Aliens appear on the medieval scene to bring peace (yes, aliens!). A man invents a catapult that didn’t exist (in a time of castles, swords and shields, go figure). And all this rubbish does is bring heartache… because, after all, the story began with such promise: the main character, a man at war with a demon trapped inside himself, tries to come to terms with who he is. What better a premise to start a good fantasy novel?
In summary, if you’re already a lover of those books everyone refers to disparagingly — women warriors with impressive breasts, a young orphan boy becoming king, dragons, dragons, dragons — then this book may be for you. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a fantasy story that works within the genre but offers a new take, operates within a larger structure, and has logical outcomes as well as characters more human than wood, look elsewhere. In the meantime, we need to find an author to take Gemmell’s premise and flesh it out into a real story.
FanLit thanks Jesse Hudson of Speculiction for contributing this guest review.