David Gemmell is a tough call to make. Wildly popular in the UK, he's a little more obscure in North America. Still, you'll notice his books are adorned with praise from the likes of Anne McCaffrey and publications you've never heard of. As much praise as there is out there for Gemmell, his lack of major recognition makes one wonder. 'Sword in the Storm' is the third book of his I've read, after the 'Lion of Macedon' and 'Bloodstone'. The conclusion I've come to is that Gemmell's work is average, it excels in some areas, yet fails in others, balancing out for a plain good read, no more, no less.
'Sword in the Stone' is the tale of the life of Connavar, whom we follow from birth to adulthood. One day he will become a great King, and this book basically plots out the major events on his journey. After a brief prologue in which we see Connavar as the King he will become, we plunge into the past, and the means of his birth. Finally, we see him as a young man, with the fate of a nation in his hands.
Connavar was born to a father whose prophesied death would occur in battle. His father ran from the battle in fear, yet died anyway. Connavar was raised by his mother and Ruathain, his father's finest friend, and the village's greatest warrior. Conn finally learns of his father's death, and swears he will never be a coward. In his quest for glory, Conn encounters the mysterious and fickle Morrigu, who both help and hinder him. The witch-woman Vorna is instrumental in his survival, and the merchant Banouin.
Reaching manhood, Conn learns of the mighty Empire of Stone, whose disciplined warriors fight a fierce war of conflict across the waters. Conn journeys to Stone, which is reminiscent of ancient Rome, and fights as a mercenary. He learns the organized tactics of the Stone armies, and distinguishes himself as a hero and accomplished tactican. He eventually returns home, to prepare his people to fight off inevitable arrival of the armies of Stone.
And that's the basic outlines of the plot. Sure, there's the odd torrid love affair, a couple endearing characters, and that's it. Don't expect any great villains, or overwhelming supernatural forces. Aside from the Morrigu, there's nothing fantastic. Conn is developed adequately, yet the supporting characters are weaker. Even the ones that become likable are killed off or discarded without warning, and someone else nicely takes their place. Of course, Gemmell is really writing epic fantasy, so it's perhaps a little too much to expect a full cast of characters.
What Gemmell does have is action, and lots of. From well scripted skirmishes to full fledged battles, these wonderfully described scenes are some of the novel's best. Luckily, there's no shortage of them.
Gemmell has a somewhat irritating tendency to skip large portions of time with the turn of a page. It becomes a little awkward when the author tries to pick up an emotion left behind years ago, and develop it into another conflict. Some parts of the book just don't seem to mesh, as we have a few years in painstaking detail, and then another couple in a condensed blur. Altogether it makes for a bit of a disjointing experience, on the other hand it does allow the author to greatly expand the storyline without resorting to another novel.
Finally, I found this novel remarkably similar to the Lion of Macedon. The main characters all had parallels, and the basic storyling was the same. Still, the formula does manage to work. Lion of Macedon was enjoyable, and Sword in the Storm provides the same basic experience. There's nothing that's really extremely wrong with the novel, and once again, there's nothing amazingly good about it. If you're looking for straight pulp fantasy, look no further; you've an excellent example.