Dark Moon: Pure genre fantasy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews David Gemmell Dark MoonDark Moon

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.

Dark Moon — (1996) Publisher: In this novel, the fate of the human race rests on the talents of three heroes, Karis — warrior woman and strategist, Tarantio — the deadliest swordsman of the age, and Duvodas the healer — who will learn a terrible truth.

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JESSE HUDSON, one of our guest reviewers, reads in most fields. He lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.

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  1. C Cornel /

    The Reviewer either did not read the book (at most skimmed it) as “professional” reviewers do, or he forgot the book from reading to writing the review.
    The reason the “… reptilian bad creatures” attack everybody and the reason they then make peace – temporarily as mentioned in the book – is due to their re-birth cycle which they think precludes co-existence and yet humans (at least one) did not finish the job when she could.
    The catapult was not invented in this story, I have no idea where the reviewer got this.
    And what aliens are those? There are other races/species of creatures in the story, that’s all, these are not “aliens” with spaceships and SF tech.
    Ah well, each to their own…

    • I am not professional (I wish…), but I did read this book from cover to cover, and was only further disappointed with each page turned.

      It’s been three or four years since I read Dark Moon, but I recall writing the word ‘catapult’ in the review and thinking that’s not precisely the word to describe the object-slinging machine that appears. But the point of my comment is that, in defending the castle the character designs and builds a device that most certainly would already have existed given the Medieval setting. It’s the equivalent of inventing a tank in the middle of WWII. And the aliens, how else to describe the dream-like things that appear toward the end of the story? Aliens don’t automatically constitute spaceships and sf tech, but in the story, if I remember correctly, they were something from “outside,” and not inherent to the setting.

      And the sudden about-face the reptiles perform, from aggro cannibals to peace loving beasts, Gemmell may justify however he likes with throw-away descriptions, but the bottom line is, it happened at a very convenient point in the narrative, just in time for the rainbows of a feel-good ending…

      This novel got very little buzz when it appeared, and rightfully so. It’s a mixed up mess.

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