Kell’s Legend by Andy Remic
Book 1 of the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles
Published by Angry Robot books, 2009.
Review by Mark Yon
Andy’s previous books have been action-based techno-thrillers (Spiral, Quake, Warhead) or SF combat scenarios (War Machine, Biohell, Hardcore). So it’s interesting to see him tackle Fantasy.
As you might expect from his previous novels, there’s a lot of fighting and big battles against all odds in a Fantasy world. The characters, male and female, are heroic in the Epic sense. To further emphasise this, the cover shows a character in armour and furs, holding a big axe.
This is Kell, the hero of our tale with his blood-bonded demon-axe, Ilanna. Kell becomes the reluctant opponent against The Harvesters, strange alien-like beings who command a vampyrric Elric-type brood, with white hair, black swords and bad intentions. Arriving from the snowy North to the city of Jalder, with an army, The Army of Iron, commanded by General Graal, they are determined to kill everybody in their way.
Along with 62 year old Kell is his granddaughter, Nienna, as well as a foppish young blade named Saark, who circumstances throw together in order to escape the city.
In an alternate sub-plot we have Anukis, ‘daughter’ of a Frankenstein-type character, Kradek-ka, who leads a privelidged lifestyle until she is found to be an impure human/machine hybrid, a ‘vachine’ (though later is found to be really the next advanced stage of the vachine lifeform, not reliant upon the machine-life-giving ‘blood-oil’, a combination of – guess!) Her survival is primarily based upon revenge upon those who mistreated her and will no doubt be resolved later in this series.
It is pretty obvious that Andy wears his admiration of David Gemmell on his sleeve here. Not only does the title have the word ‘Legend’ in it, the book’s dedicated to David and there is much of a Gemmell vibe going on here, mixed with a touch of Moorcock. Nothing wrong with that. The character’s motivations and actions are logical and straightforward, they are both likeable where they need to be, and unpleasant where they could be.
However the overall feeling upon finishing the novel is that Andy tries too hard to imitate Gemmell, particularly at the end, and consequently the overall feeling for me at the end is that it is paradoxically uninspiring.
Crucially, where the book does try to be different is also its biggest weakness for me. A key premise of the novel is that people are soon after birth being turned into a human-clockwork hybrid and that there is a clockwork society dependent on blood-oil, which is running out. Their motivation for their actions in the novel is therefore clear, but the reason for clockwork vampires seemed rather extreme and unnecessary. Other than the fact that you have created a cool adversary – clockwork vampires! – their reason d’etre seemed a little forced to me.
On the positive side, the dialogue is effective, if a little over-wrought in places. There are also some good action scenes. But you pretty much get what you expect here – lots of fast paced action (some of it pretty nasty), explicit sex and brutality, men and women making difficult yet necessary choices, love and loss, life or death fighting for the greater good.
In summary, this is a book where you get what you expect under the label ‘Epic Fantasy’, both good and bad. It’s not particularly new, but there are some good set pieces.
Mark Yon, July 2010.