Some of the other children had no father, but their lack was honourable. Their Dad died in the war, you know. He was a hero. This boy's lack was the subject of sly whispers from the adults, and open jeering from his peers. This boy's mother was, the boy heard so many times, a whore. The word was less hurtful than the blows that would follow it. Most of the blows came from other children, but sometimes adults too would weigh in.
Possibly the most prolific (he was known to write an entire 500 page novel in one weekend) Heroic Fantasy writer of all time, David Gemmell was born in West London in 1948. He had a harsh and violent upbringing in a tough urban area, and was raised alone by his mother until the age of six. His stepfather, Bill, compelled him to take up boxing to learn how to stand up for himself, rather than run away or hide behind a wall. This philosophy would later colour a great deal of his writing. He was expelled from school at the age of 16 for organising a gambling syndicate and was arrested several times throughout his youth, mostly for ending fights. He was once described by a psychologist's report as a psychopath.He made his first attempt at writing, a novel by the name of The Man from Miami, while working as a lorry-driver's mate. The response from the publishers informed him that he had "absolutely no aptitude for creative thought" and "wouldn't get published if he lived seven lifetimes" (the seven lifetimes was apparently a reference to the main character of the book); Gemmell himself later admitted the novel could "curdle milk at 50 paces". He later got an interview for his local newspaper; despite being the least qualified applicant his arrogance was mistaken for aptitude and he got the job. He later worked as editor for several local newspapers.In 1976 he was diagnosed with, supposedly, terminal cancer. Partially to take his mind off things and also in the hopes of fulfilling his dream of become a published writer he composed a novel called The Siege of Dros Delnoch. In many ways the story of a ragtag group of defenders fighting off a siege of overwhelming odds acted as a metaphor for his own mental battle with cancer. However he later learned that he suffered a misdiagnosis and set The Siege of Dros Delnoch aside until 1980 when a friend read the manuscript and convinced Gemmell to attempt to get it published. Two years later the much sharper and considerably expanded version was pitched to a publishing house under the name Legend (although it was released as Against the Horde in the USA for a year).Following its immense commercial success he went on to write a sequel, of sorts, The King Beyond the Gate in 1985. Although that was also successful he found himself wanting to explore the past of what was becoming his Drenai Saga. Thus was born Waylander in 1986. The Drenai Saga ended up being 11 novels.Another epic series is the Stones of Power series, consisting of seven books set in three widely-separated time periods: two in Ancient Greece; two in Dark Age England, featuring the people who became mythologised as King Arthur and his knights; and three featuring The Gunslinger Jon Shannow in a Wild West-style post-apocalypse wasteland. There's also Time Travel involved, mixing in a couple of other time periods, including The Present Day and the golden age of Atlantis (where all the trouble started); there's even a character for whom the events of the Jon Shannow novels occur before those of the Arthurian ones. And, somehow, it all works.He also wrote two other heroic fantasy series (the Rigante series and the Hawk Queen duology), a half-dozen standalone fantasy novels, and a crime thriller (which was published under the pseudonym Ross Harding to avoid confusing readers). At the time of his death he was working on a Demythtification trilogy set during the Trojan War; he had completed the first two parts, and working on the third, which following his death was finished by his wife from his detailed notes.[[David Gemmell/ YMMV page here]]
A Man Is Not a Virgin: Played straight in-universe with the first book of the Rigante series, where the protagonist is sent off to the local 'earth maiden' so he'll know what he's doing on his wedding night. He proves to be quite a fast learner.
Quite possibly averted in the case of Jon Shannow — it is strongly implied that he remains a virgin into his thirties, before hooking up with the heroine in the early stages of his first book.
Anachronic Order: The Drenai books are presented so that distant history in one book is far future in following ones. And vice versa.
And I Must Scream: The ending of Dark Prince leaves the Dark God Kadmilos trapped inside of Alexander The Great's dead body, which is embalmed and encased in unbreakable crystal. Kadmilos can't move or speak and the only way to break his link to the body would be if it rotted away or was burned to ashes. Plus, he gets to experience the Egyptian embalming process firsthand.
And Your Little Dog Too: Morak really takes the cake during his final duel with Waylander. By then (as he gleefully points out) he's already shot Waylander's actual dog, and instead relishes aloud the thought of payinga visit to Waylander's daughter after he wins.
Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: A very common dynamic is a young, talented but relatively untested fighter who is (wrongly) convinced that he is capable of beating the older, less flashy hero. He almost always has a more experienced friend who has a more accurate idea of the hero's capabilities and warns him not to bother.
Arrow Catch: A rather neat example in one book — a rookie swordsman finishes his workout with a spin to block an imaginary arrow, accidentally parrying an actual arrow that had been fired at his back. The guys who tried to murder him are so impressed by this dazzling feat of arms that they pretty much surrender instantly.
Automatic Crossbows: Waylander has a double-shot crossbow small enough to fire with one hand. Not as egregious as many uses of this trope, as it's explicitly stated that it packs far less range and raw power than a conventional crossbow and that it cost him a fortune to have custom-built.
Badass Boast: Druss gets a particularly good one, with bonus punching.
"I am Druss. Sometimes called Captain of the Axe. In Ventria they call me Druss the Sender. In Vagria I am merely the Axeman. To the Nadir I am Deathwalker. In Lentria I am the Silver Slayer. But who are you? You dung-eating lumps of offal! Who the hell are you? I have a mind to set an example today. I have a mind to cut the fat from this ill-fated fortress."
Badass Creed: The Iron Code of Druss, as well as the Nadir Chant.
Badass Family: Many of the most prominent (and hardest) characters in his longer-running series are distant ancestors. Most notably, his Rigante series is set in two different time periods, roughly corresponding to the Roman invasion of Britain and the English Civil War. The main character of the former is a common ancestor of much of the main cast of the latter.
This happens a lot in his Drenai saga, too, but less focus is placed on it.
Badass Grandpa: Very common. Druss, in his first appearance. Jon Shannow grows into one, as does Waylander.
Big Book of War: Several fictional examples (with military academies to disseminate their teachings).
The Ventrians were so adherent to it that they stopped defending the walls of their city after the fourth attack during a civil war as the book said four was the maximum number of times to attack in a day.
To put emphasis on the extent of grey in this series: In King Beyond the Gate Ananais, the whitest morally of the three protagonists has "freed" prisoners ambushed and killed to prevent them joining the enemy again.
Chekhov's Gun: Not a staple ingredient in his work, but there's an excellent one in Ravenheart. The first chapter features Jaim Grymauch being lightly mocked for carrying around a huge two-handed claymore, when the armour it was designed to counter (plate) became obsolete centuries ago. It's not seen used again, and the reader has nearly forgotten that he owns it, until the final act — where he urgently needs to kill four members of a conservative knightly Order who are wearing full ceremonial plate armour...
Clarke's Third Law: In the second Waylander book, a group of bad guys is directed by the Big Bad to an ancient repository of magical power...which, when they find it, sounds an awful lot (in terms of decor, at least) like a modern apartment or office. Especially the 'glowing cylinders' set in the walls to provide illumination, one of which promptly electrocutes a bad guy when he sticks his sword into it.
Other Drenai novels mention ancient 'machines' which nobody alive really knows how to work, but which can be used to create mutated soldiers known as 'Joinings'. The effects of these machines can be replicated, or reversed, by 'ordinary' magic.
A one-shot book, Echoes of the Great Song, features a magical form of energy which shares many functional similarities with electricity. These include zapping you if you touch a container of it without insulating yourself, and causing an Electrified Bathtub if discharged into water.
Cloning Blues: Along with soul transplants in The Swords of Night and Day, this generates some moments of real existential horror. For example, the 'second' Skilgannon being treated to a wall-mounted display of the original's millennia-old preserved skin.
Creator Thumbprint: Boxing contests feature in many of his major works. Also rock climbing and long-distance running.
Another recurring motif appears to be boat on a hill. Interestingly enough, while in The Wolf in Shadow it's a symbol of arrogance, in Dark Moon it symbolizes an improbable but nonetheless admirable dream.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Commonly used early on in his stories to illustrate just how Badass the hero is. Waylander, in particular, gets one of these as the first scene in two out of three of his books.
Enemies with Death: Druss in Legend, although Death's threats only seem to goad him to even mightier feats.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Moidart, despite being a major character in half the Rigante series we never learn his name. The same goes for another minor character, the Moidart's rival, The Pinance.
Exposition of Immortality: Dark Prince, one of the Sipstrassi novels, has an epilogue in which the Greek philosopher Aristotle is strongly implied to also be Leonardo da Vinci; maintaining his long life with the use of Sipstrassi. The time is given as "unknown," but when Parmenion asks about what happened to Alexander, we're told he died seventeen hundred years ago.
The Nadir, especially their portrayal in Legend, are basically Mongols and their leader a Genghis Khan Expy
The Chiatze are very strongly based on Imperial China (but with samurai-equivalents thrown in).
The Sathuli have a lot of Muslim/Arab cultural features.
The Rigante, of the eponymous series, are essentially very Scottish Celts (and later, simply Scottish). The same series also features counterparts of Romans and Vikings as well as, in the chronologically later parts, Native Americans, Cavaliers and Roundheads.
Five-Man Band: The Thirty. Yes, there's thirty of them, but (chronologically) later incarnations have a formal command structure that fits the relevant archetypes to a tee.
The Hero — The Voice of The Thirty. Takes all executive decisions, is chosen by a mixture of prophecy and by needing a chance to prove himself. Prove himself he inevitably will by the end of the story, and then some.
Subverted, because the Voice is the worst of them all. He is appointed because he is weaker and deserves to face the worst challenges to prove himself worthy.
The Smart Guy — The Eyes of The Thirty, the most mentally powerful member of the group. Usually the one called upon to gather information telepathically, or look into the future.
The Big Guy — The Heart of The Thirty, the most physically powerful member or the most skilful fighter. Tends also to be the most optimistic and enthusiastic member and to be central to team morale.
The Chick/Team Dad — The Soul of the Thirty, the wisest member who acts as the group's moral centre. Usually the oldest member and acts as a mentor to the others, especially to The Voice.
Foreshadowing: In Waylander II Morak, while weighing the benefits of betraying and murdering Belash, worries that the Nadir is strong enough to ignore a fatal stab wound long enough to kill Morak regardless. Later on, Belash takes out the leader of the Dark Brotherhood in exactly this manner.
Gainax Ending: Hero in the Shadows. After a straightforward ending in which the invading demonic hordes are pushed back, the epilogue engages in some pretty strong Mind Screw: Waylander, who has only hours left to live, is sent into an alternate universe, where he manages to prevent the rape and murder of his wife — making it not only an alternate universe, but the past as well, or something like that — heck if I know. He then dies, after which the Waylander from that dimension comes home to his wife. The End.
Gentleman Thief: Bowman, a Robin Hood-esque outlaw from Legend. Also Scaler from its sequel.
Goldfish Poop Gang: Out of the thousand-plus Nadir tribes alluded to in the Drenai saga, the Green Monkeys have this reputation in-universe. The name probably doesn't help.
One must also ask some questions about the "Tall Spears" tribe's choice of name.
Good People Have Good Sex: Generally played fairly straight in his works, but far from universally. For instance, when we first meet Waylander he exclusively visits prostitutes for sex because he's terrified of emotional involvement after the death of his first family. He initially turns down his eventual second wife for this very reason (she can only persuade him to sleep with her by accepting a token payment beforehand) and returns to his old ways after her death.
A more precise message, found throughout his books, is "People who care about their partners have good sex" — many otherwise sexually accomplished characters, hero and villain alike, find that their manifold previous experiences pale before those with someone they genuinely trust and care for.
Druss phrases this quite bluntly in Legend, referring to his wife: "I had a real woman once, and since then I've never needed another."
Green Lantern Ring: The Stones of Power. In the Jon Shannow series alone they are used for healing, immortality, mind control, invisibility, transmutation, travel between dimensions and through time, force fields, telekinesis, genetic modification, seeing down to microscopic scales, and recreatingthe final voyage of the Titanic.
Heroic Sacrifice: Possibly played straight, possibly averted at the end of the Jon Shannow trilogy. Shannow transports Sarento to the twentieth century, just like he wanted. It's just that Shannow took him to ground zero during the first atomic bomb test. It's not entirely clear whether or not Shannow actually dies.
Hollywood Atheist: You would expect that, given that the author was fairly outspoken about his Christian beliefs. You would be wrong. In Wolf in Shadow Batik, a Hellborn refugee, describes himself as "not religious" and comes across as having his head screwed on tighter - and generally being much more sensible and overall happier with life - than Bible-following Shannow.
I Am A Humanitarian: Jon Shannow is unlucky enough to come across two cases of this in quick succession in Wolf in Shadow. First he fights off a tribe of cannibals who file their teeth to points. Then later on, when he's going through the saddlebags of a Hellborn he's just killed, he finds some tasty-looking cuts of preserved meat. He's seconds away from having a bite when someone else tells him that the meat comes from child sacrifices.
I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Jon Shannow's silent raid on a Hellborn camp suddenly goes awfully noisy when one of his allies (who, to be fair, had never handled a gun before) tries to cock a stolen pistol while simultaneously squeezing the trigger.
In the Waylander books, this is how Waylander eventually gets killed — with his own crossbow, no less.
"The man asked (Angel) how it felt to have a face that looked like a cow had trampled on it. He said "Like this!". Then he broke the man's nose."
Kick the Dog: His villains are guaranteed at least one of these apiece, especially Morak of "Waylander II", who manages to couple a literal example of this with a well-deserved Karmic Death. He fatally shoots Waylander's dog with an arrow before going after the man himself — unluckily for him it doesn't quite take immediately, and while he's fighting Waylander the enraged dog hamstrings him from behind.
The Magic Goes Away: A pervasive theme throughout the Rigante series — mystical beings weaken and die as human evils wash away magic from the Earth. Likewise the one-shots Dark Moon and Echoes of the Great Song.
Marked Change: In Dark Moon, Tarantio's eyes change colour depending on which of his two personalities is in control.
Mook Horror Show: There are many passages in the Waylander books written from the perspective of an increasingly terrified villain whose story ends with the protagonist killing them, the best example comprising the whole first chapter of Hero in the Shadows. Simlar passages feature Druss, Jon Shannow, Skilgannon, Decado and Kaelin Ring.
Purple Eyes: Ulric in Legend is mentioned several times as having striking violet eyes.
Rasputinian Death: In Hero in the Shadows, a magician with a powerful healing factor (apprentice to the one mentioned above) is first pushed off a balcony by Waylander, falling several floor into a rose border. After regaining consciousness and healing the incurred injuries enough to get to his feet, he is confronted by an angry mob and impaled by a thrown iron spear, which is then struck by lightning. Even then it takes a cut throat to finish him off.
Reed Richards Is Useless: Strongly averted in Waylander's case. With the money he has made from professional assassination (before his story starts proper) he invests wisely and carefully, bankrolling struggling governments and founding hospitals and libraries with the proceeds while living relatively frugally himself.
Religion of Evil: The Dark Brotherhood from the Drenai series, the Hellborn, and Winterbourne's cult in the last Rigante book.
Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: In a universe filled with badasses, most invocations of this would require a lot of qualification. However, a perfect case is Druss and his nearly lifelong companion Sieben, who is a wand-slim poet with almost Bateman-esque obsessiveness about his appearance — in one scene he inwardly fumes when the coverings of the chair he's forced to sit in clash with his shirt.
In the one-shot Echoes of the Great Song, the main characters actually become the gods of an unspecified future civilisation, extracts from whose scripture form the chapter introductions and the epilogue.
The Siege: A staple of the Drenai series especially.
Sinister Scythe: Huntsekker in the Rigante series has one as his signature weapon. It's a European-style scytheblade, but with a shortened hilt so it's wielded like a kama and worn like a sword.
Stable Time Loop: In one of the Jon Shannow novels. Also in Morningstar, in which the legends of Morningstar inspire a thief to become a hero, before he goes back in time to become the hero who inspired him.
The ones that it inspired were his companions, who in turn taught him the value of restraint and good PR. HE was still a sociopath.
Stout Strength: His more physically powerful characters tend to be realistically described as having weightlifter's physiques, rather than bodybuilder's.
Superpowered Evil Side: Dace to Tarantio in Dark Moon, although he's more like a superpowered Id - the two are the extremes of the split personality of their traumatised childhood progenitor.
Technicolor Eyes: See Purple Eyes above. Also in Legend, Serbitar the albino has un-albino-like bright green eyes, a legacy of his mystical training; at one point in the novel, when he's at his lowest physical and spiritual ebb, they temporarily revert to their natural color.
This Is My Boomstick: Happens a few times in the Jon Shannow novels, sort of. In the post-apocalyptic setting, people still know what guns are — but current levels of technology can get no further than primitive revolvers. So in the first book, the few people who preserve or reverse-engineer guns from before the Fall (ranging from semi-automatic pistols and rifles to machine guns) are at a decided advantage in combat.
Occurs in a more traditional fashion in the third book. Jon Shannow briefly travels in time to modern-day America, and returns armed with twin Desert Eagles, Uzis and a pump-action shotgun. The first forty or so enemies he runs into after that don't know what hit them.
Unstoppable Rage: Rek from Legend suffers from explicitly named berserker rage in combat to a degree that even makes him immune to usually game-breaking Psychic Powers, and Connavar and Decado II have both blacked out and killed everything in sight when put under severe stress. In general, it is rarely a wise idea to make a David Gemmell protagonist really angry.
Wacky Wayside Tribe: Apparently a literal English translation of the word 'Sathuli'. Jon Shannow also meets more than his fair share in his first book.
Not really for Shannow, he only really meets two tribes in the first novel and both play large roles
Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Cruelly subverted by antagonists several times and even the protagonist at least once. The most cruel example being Helikoan's nine year old brother, Dio, who is set on fire and thrown off a cliff.
Write Who You Know: The most prominent Drenai soldiers in Waylander were based on his journalist colleagues (who at the time had their jobs threatened by a rival newspaper group, after whom the Big Bad of the piece was named). Druss, and later characters in the same vein, were strongly based on his beloved stepfather Bill.
You Can Barely Stand: Many of his most prominent heroes continue to kick ass literally until the moment of death, and certainly some time after the moment of mere fatal wounding. These include Druss, Waylander (twice!) and Jon Shannow, as well as Clem Steiner from Bloodstone, Bison from Winter Warriors, Fiallach from the Rigante series and Serbitar from Legend. A special mention must go to Ananis from The King Beyond the Gate, who after taking a boar spear in the back grabs another (ten-foot tall monster) opponent and skewers him to death with the spear head THAT IS STICKING OUT OF HIS CHEST!
You Gotta Have Blue Hair: In Echoes of the Great Song, (dyed) blue hair is used to make the ruling Avatar class stand out.
Your Mind Makes It Real: The result of two separate spirit battles in Legend. When the acolytes' avatar has its back broken and Nosta Khan's is beheaded, the same things happen to their bodies.