'Midnight Falcon' is the second book in David Gemmell's 'Rigante Series'. While the final two novels take place almost a thousand years after events in 'Sword in the Storm', 'Midnight Falcon' follows the first book much more closely, positioning it as more of a direct sequel.
This time around, the protagonist is not Connavar, but his bastard son Bane. Feeling slighted in his youth, he grows up to be a bitter young man, and is cast out of the Rigante tribe. He eventually makes his way to Stone, the Romanesque nation Connavar himself defeated at the close of the first book. Bane soon finds himself in the gladiatoral arena, fighting for fame, fortune, and life. This part of the novel is an interesting read, as it's full of details about gladiatoral combat and excellent descriptions of such fights. It's also full of colourful characters, such as the unfortunately named 'Rage', Bane's close friend and mentor.
As bane becomes a respected 'Name' - a renowned gladiator - his fame spreads far, to the capital of Stone and the attentions of the emperor Jasaray. Strung throughout this is Bane's blood feud with an arch nemesis, an enigmatic and mysterious tree-cult, and an exploration of his almost psychopathic love of violence.
Bane is never truly comfortable at Stone, and eventually heads towards the inevitable reconciliation with his heritage, and the people of the Rigante. Eventually, the threat of Stone will have to faced again, and Bane must decide if he will stand with the Rigante, or simply aside.
Gemmell throws his usual cast of supporting characters into the mix, although as usual there's little to no development of them. They're prone to sudden and complete reversals in character, which can be be irritating at times.
It's disconcerting at first to have a sequel not follow the main character of the previous book. Connavar was an excellent character, and a fan favourite, but Gemmell handles the transition to Bane remarkably well. This change of focuse fits in with his tendency to leap many years in a single bound, and allows for a truly sweeping storyline.
True to form, 'Midnight Falcon' is peppered with the deaths of supporting characters, which is a refreshing change. It's nice to see an author willing to kill of some characters, instead of having a cast of thirty miraculously survive from beginning to end. As much as one may complain about flat characters, there's still a surprising twinge when one of them drops out of the story.
Heroic fantasy such as the 'Rigante Series' can't really be compared to 'High' fantasy, aka 'The Lord of the Rings', 'The Wheel of Time', and 'A Song of Ice and Fire'. The two sub-genres aim to accomplish different goals, and for it's part 'Midnight Falcon' performs remarkably well. It's nice to be able to sit down with a book without having to reread the previous entries in the series, and keep track of a myriad number of interweaving and often times confusing sub plots.
There's nothing subtle or complex about 'Midnight Falcon'. It aims to deliver a rip-roaring hack 'n' slash fantasy adventure, and does just that. Although it ties in wonderfully with 'Sword in the Storm', the book stands just as well on it's own. You don't have to read the first one to completely enjoy the second one. It's an excellent novel in it's own right.