As a quality writer of heroic fantasy it is fitting if a little strange that David Gemmell’s latest offering is a re-telling of one of the most well-known tales of heroism and tragedy – Troy. Previously Gemmell has attempted, very successfully, to approach the genre from a less fantastical and more historical angle with Lion of Macedon. Although LOM’s sequel Dark Prince dealt with minotaurs, centaurs and invincible kings and neither book can be considered historical fiction, LOM‘s approach to the tumultuous affairs of ancient Greece in the time of Alexander the Great was well received. Lion of Macedon’s unique perspective on events, it’s compelling story of a rounded central character and the ability to place the reader in ancient Greece has been replicated in Troy – Lord of the Silver Bow.
Lord of the Silver Bow (LOTSB) is the first part of a trilogy that re-tells the events prior to, during, and after the siege of Troy. In this first book the story follows the tale of an often over-looked character in the Troy mythology, Aeneas, who later finds prominence in Virgil’s Aeneid. The choice of character allows Gemmell to build his own unique vision of events unemcumbered by previous versions and ingrained perceptions. Aeneas, preferring to be referred to as Helikaon in LOTSB, is a prince of Dardania and successful trader. As with any Gemmell protagonist Helikaon is familiar with the way of the sword; capable, dangerous, struggling to control a temper that turns to rage with frightening results, Helikaon’s past is littered with tragic events. Under the tutelage of Odysseus, Helikaon matures into a strong, courageous young man whose life is turned upside down by a chance meeting with the princess Andromache of Thebe-Under-Plakos, Hektor’s betrothed.
For fans of David Gemmell LOTSB offers much that is familiar – from the troubled hero to the giant, loyal friend – many of Gemmell’s classic archetypes are on display. It does the book nor the author a disservice to suggest that the structure and style of writing has remained almost unchanged since his first novel, Legend. The prose is short and to the point, descriptions have been whittled down to only that which is necessary and yet there is, even after 20+ books, a singular truth to David Gemmell’s work, which is that he makes you care for the characters. Whether it be the great Druss or the plain Laodike, Gemmell’s characters create within the reader an emotional response that is both surprising and strong. No more so is this true than with Lord of the Silver Bow and the complex nature of relationships that form and are broken during the events leading to the battle for Troy.
Readers who have yet to come into contact with David Gemmell are in for a treat. Although treading very familiar ground in Troy, Gemmell offers unique angles and often amusing interpretations on details that we all take for granted about the story. This is the epitome of epic heroic fantasy and DG is very much in his element among the love, treachery and violence that engulfs the fortress city, giving the tale a very close, personal touch that allows for both perspective and intimacy.
As the first book in the trilogy though there are a few problems. Firstly the pace is relatively slow, characters are introduced at a prosaic speed over the course of the novel – some of the most recognisable only appearing near the end – and the narrative holds to a staccato rhythm between dialogue and action that favours the former. Despite being a ‘build-up’ book that sets the scene for the great battle to come, there is a nagging sense that this book barely scratches the surface of the events needed to instigate such a colossal event. Suggesting the possibility that the next book, Shield of Thunder, may also contain preceding events rather than taking us to the meat of the matter. Lastly, for the DG fan at least, there is an undeniable sense that despite it’s fresh approach there is so much that is still familiar about Lord of the Silver Bow. It is of course why we come back to his books time and again but on the back of so many over-used devices, settings and characters, of late – White Wolf and the Swords of Night and Day particularly guilty – it really is crying out for Mr Gemmell to write something in a new and original environment.
In conclusion Lord of the Silver Bow is a superb book for both fans and newcomers alike. It is the first part of a trilogy and thus not as action-orientated as the next two are likely to be but, that said, there is still much to enjoy in David Gemmell’s version of Troy.
Owen Jones © 2005