It’s been six years since the legendary Knights of the Gabala rode through a gate to hell in order to fight the evil that threatened the realm. They haven’t been heard from since. But they are desperately needed now because the King, once a noble man, has begun rounding up the nomad population in Holocaust style. People who oppose his actions are named traitors and the King’s new henchmen are very strong and very… undead. The king’s new policies have alienated a lot of people — mostly peasants. Can they band together and defeat this evil? Are there men and women who will rise up and lead this motley group?
Knights of Dark Renown is a deep and engaging multi-layered heroic fantasy. Not one of those that’s got a cover sporting a big muscle-man with a sword in one hand and a buxom bikini-clad babe in the other. Gemmell’s characters are not stereotyped heroes and villains; They’re complex and three-dimensional. Some of his heroes — both men and women — are so flawed that they don’t see themselves as noble at all (and even the reader isn’t sure that they really are). In David Gemmell’s world, all men (and women) have the potential to be both heroes and villains — even at the same moment in time.
Gemmell covers a lot of psychological ground in Knights of Dark Renown. There are themes of love and betrayal, guilt and forgiveness, consequences of behavior, atonement and redemption, courage and cowardice. I was listening on audiobook and found myself often having to pause the recording so I could think for a while.
This book is dark and many of the so-called heroes end up dead. But even through all of the darkness, pain, and death, there are many uplifting “heroic” moments, such as when the coward does a courageous deed (and, as Gemmell said in an interview, only a coward can truly be courageous), or when the man who had done wrong all his life decides to end well.
I heard Gemmell speak of a fan who told him of a heroic deed he had done after reading one of Gemmell’s books, and I believe it. Though Gemmell shows us that good people can do evil things, he give us hope by showing us that we are capable also of great deeds — even if we’ve never done one before.
It’s this sort of inspiration that separates David Gemmell’s fantasy from that of some of the writers in this genre who, striving to be different, give us darkness and leave us there. There’s plenty of darkness in David Gemmell’s work but, thankfully, he doesn’t leave us wallowing in it.