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Literature / Drenai

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Druss would like to axe you a question!

The Drenai saga is a series of Heroic Fantasy novels by David Gemmell.

The series is in Anachronic Order, with successive novels moving back and forth over the centuries-long history of the Drenai empire. The first published novel in the series (and Gemmell's first published work) is Legend (1984); in chronological order, the first novel is Waylander (1986). In either order the concluding novel of the series is The Swords of Night and Day (2004).

    Novels in published order 
  1. Legend (1984)
  2. The King Beyond the Gate (1985)
  3. Waylander (1986)
  4. Quest for Lost Heroes (1990)
  5. Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf (1992)
  6. The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend (1993)
  7. The Legend of Deathwalker (1996)
  8. Winter Warriors (1997)
  9. Hero in the Shadows (2000)
  10. White Wolf (2004)
  11. The Swords of Night and Day (2004)

    Novels in chronological order 
  1. Waylander (1986)
  2. Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf (1992)
  3. Hero in the Shadows (2000)
  4. The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend (1993)
  5. The Legend of Deathwalker (1996)
  6. White Wolf (2004)
  7. Legend (1984)
  8. The King Beyond the Gate (1985)
  9. Quest for Lost Heroes (1990)
  10. Winter Warriors (1997)
  11. The Swords of Night and Day (2004)

This series provides examples of:

  • After the End: There are hints that this is the case. Someone certainly left a lot of nasty stuff lying around... Confirmed in the final Drenai novel which reveals that "magic" is caused by some sort of satellite receiver system which is destroyed.
  • All Your Powers Combined: When fighting in their astral forms, The Thirty can merge into The One, an immense and nearly omnipotent spirit warrior. The Dark Brotherhood and the Nadir shamen can do the same, but take the form of a demon or a dragon. Though the One doesn't exactly look nice either and just a short time as it nearly makes the members forget their individuality.
  • Anachronic Order: The Drenai books are presented so that distant history in one book is far future in following ones. And vice versa.
  • 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 paying a visit to Waylander's daughter after he wins.
  • Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: Badass version, from Waylander II. "Are you aware that you're outnumbered at least ten to one here?" " will take time to kill them all."
  • Arrow Catch:
    • In Legend Druss parries an arrow with his axe.
    • Some of the Kriaz-nor, a sentient variety of Joinings, can easily catch crossbow bolts by hand.
    • A rather neat example in Quest for Lost Heroes — 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."
    • Decado gets a doozy of one in The King Beyond the Gate:
      If it is faith I need, then I have faith. In myself. In Decado, the Ice Killer. I need no sword, for my hands are death.
  • Badass Creed:
    • The Iron Code of Druss:
      Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil. Never back away from an enemy. Either fight or surrender. It is not enough to say I will not be evil. Evil must be fought wherever it is found.
    • The Nadir Chant:
      Nadir we,
      victors still.
  • Badass Family: It happens sometimes that a badass character from one novel will be a distant descendent or ancestor of one from an earlier novel. Averted with Druss; while numerous characters claim him as their ancestor, he never had children.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Rek and Virae in Legend.
  • Big Book of War: In The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend the Ventrians have a highly formalized way of making war, based on an ancient treatise. So slavishly do they adhere to this text that the defenders of a hotly contested city leave the walls after the fourth attack in one day because the book says that launching more than four attacks in a day should be avoided as it is bad for morale and as a result no Ventrian general would presume to launch a fifth attack.
  • Big Eater: Belash.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Addressed in Hero in the Shadows. In a scene that would be utterly hilarious if it didn't end with her death, a female supporting character — drunk and unaware of the Big Bad's secret identity — treats him to a brain-burningly candid discussion of the relative endowments of two of the heroes, eventually concluding that length, girth and technique are all similarly important. It would be nice to think that the trauma this conversation caused him contributed, in some small way, to his eventual defeat.
  • Boom, Headshot!:
    • Druss achieves one with a thrown axe.
    • Rek nails one of Reinhard's men right in the forehead. Thing is, he was aiming for the chest.
  • Buried Alive: In The Swords of Night and Day, Queen Jianna buries an advisor alive inside a large stone chamber after he speaks his mind too freely. She later decides to reverse the decision, but by the time he's dug up he'd found a way to hang himself.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Waylander spent years hunting down the nineteen deserters who killed his family. When he got to the last one, he wanted to make sure he knew what he died for, so he told him. The deserter turned out to have absolutely no recollection of that particular massacre. Waylander killed him anyway, of course.
  • Church Militant: The Thirty. Thirty warrior-monks, who fight both physically and spiritually.
  • 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.
  • Combat by Champion: Champions dueling are a traditional part of sieges. However, they tend to occur toward the end of the siege when the city or defensive position is close to falling. If the defenders' champion loses, they can surrender without losing honor. If the attackers' champion loses, the defenders are traditionally provided with supplies and the attackers continue the siege. No one expects the attacker to abandom a successful siege just because of the outcome of a single duel.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Waylander. When challenged to a duel and politely asked "Arena Rules?", he headbutts his opponent in the nose and says "No."
  • Covered with Scars: Druss the Legend (although it is mentioned in Legend that he had noticeably fewer scars on his back, because he always faced up to danger).
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: In Legend, the Drenai fortress of Dros Delnoch is supposed to be manned during wartime by 40,000 soldiers. However, the current Drenai leadership has focused more on domestic matters rather than maintaining a strong military presence on the borders. When a massive Nadir army lays siege to Dros Delnoch, the fortress only has 10,000 under-trained and badly led soldiers to hold the walls.
  • 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.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: The end of Legend.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Punctuates one of Druss's Badass Boasts in Legend.
  • The Drifter: Waylander.
  • Dr. Jerk: Calvar Syn in Legend.
  • Enemies with Death: Druss in Legend, although Death's threats only seem to goad him to even mightier feats.
  • Evil Counterpart: The Dark Brotherhood to The Thirty. They rape, torture and sacrifice prisoners, including children, mind-control enemies into killing their friends or committing slow and painful suicide, snuff out people's souls while they're asleep, and cheat by having more than thirty members.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The arrival of demons in Hero in The Shadows is preceded by clouds of flesh-freezing mist.
  • Evil Weapon: Turns out that Druss's mighty ax, Snaga, as well as the Swords of Night and Day used by Skilgannon are so effective not just because of their respective wielders' skill, but also because they each come with a built-in bloodthirsty demon.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • 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 Ventrians are based on the Achaemenid Empire (the first Persian Empire).
  • Fighting Fingerprint: In The King Beyond the Gate, a Scarily Competent Tracker pursuing Tenaka Khan manages to identify his quarry based on a pair of footprints in the middle of a battlefield. The prints show that someone, during the fighting, leapt into the air and spun around to deliver a cut, and the tracker knows that Tenaka is the only person insane enough to try a leapspin in a serious fight, especially when outnumbered, as well as good enough to actually pull it off.
  • Foreshadowing: In Waylander II Morak, while weighing the benefits of betraying and murdering Belash, worries that he 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.
  • Friendly Enemy: When not fighting, Druss and Ulric get along surprisingly well with a lot of shared respect for one another despite being on opposite sides of the war.
  • 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.
    • This actually serves to end the trilogy proper. From the the first novel, Waylander talks about whenever he remembers his son, he sees a young boy laying in blood-soaked flowers. Later, a seer tells him "You won't know peace until you look up into your son's eyes." The final book ends with Waylander dying as he looks up at the son he finally managed to save with "a look of utter contentment".
      • Also, parallel universes are a big plotpoint in Hero In The Shadows, and crop up fairly frequently in Gemmell's other works so it doesn't come out of the left field as much as it can seem.
  • Gentleman Thief:
    • Bowman, a Robin Hood-esque outlaw from Legend.
    • 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.
  • Good Is Not Soft: The purpose of the Thirty is to be this trope. They hold all life to be sacred, but still go into battle and kill people because the alternative is the triumph of evil. The strain this contradiction puts on them is a frequent theme.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: Inverted. One of Waylander's enemies has magically-endowed regenerative capabilities that make him effectively unkillable. All well and good against Waylander's knives and crossbow bolts, but when his plan to use Waylander as a human sacrifice backfires and a demon arrives to claim HIM..."Ah. I see you have learned the secrets of regeneration. You will wish that you had not. For now it may take you twenty centuries to die."
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: 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.
  • Heroic Willpower: The first encounter between young Druss and Nosta Khan the Nadir shaman. During an argument Nosta puts Druss under a paralyzing spell, which causes agonizing pain with every attempt to move, and proceeds to gloat about how Druss is in his power now. Druss then grabs him by the throat and threatens to break his neck if the spell isn't removed. One can imagine Nosta probably needed a change of clothes after it was all said and done.
  • "Hey, You!" Haymaker: Or, this being Waylander the Combat Pragmatist, 'Hey You Knife-through-the-eye-socket', when the Dark Brotherhood knight who's been torturing him with mind control gets distracted and briefly looks the other way.
  • Hold the Line:
    • The entire plot of Legend: an undermanned and undertrained garrison attempts to hold a pass against an invading horde that massively outnumbers them, in the hope of slowing the horde down long enough for reinforcements to arrive. They don't, but they do delay the horde just barely long enough for internal strife to force the horde to turn around and go home.
    • The final act of The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend has an example that will seem eerily familiar to many. Druss and a small force of Drenai warriors spend three days holding a narrow pass against the enormous, multi-national armies of the Ventrian God-Emperor — who paints himself gold, maintains an elite force called 'The Immortals' and disciplines his generals with a giant executioner — to give the main Drenai army time to respond to the threat. Written a good five years before the 300 graphic novel was published!
  • The Horde: The Nadir in Legend.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Decado, a former Badass Normal, experiences this on his first astral travel as there is nobody around to teach him the subtleties of it. Whereas his friends' spirit forms appear clothed in silver armour and carrying swords of light, he has to fight the forces of evil naked and with his bare hands. Not that this slows him down too much.
  • I Am a Humanitarian: The Joinings find humans rather tasty.
  • I Am Big Boned: Rek initially denies that his soft life in Drenan has given him a paunch, claiming that it's a "curved spine" and "relaxed muscle" before finally admitting that no, it's a paunch.
  • I Call It "Vera": Druss's battle axe Snaga, "The Sender".
  • I Have Many Names: Kesa Khan whilst on a shamanic high in Waylander II, probably a direct Shout-Out to one of Odin's speeches, made while in a similar state.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: In the Waylander books, this is how Waylander eventually gets killed — with his own crossbow, no less.
  • Implacable Man: Angel is famous for his tolerance for injury.
  • In Mysterious Ways: There is never any overt sign that the Source takes an active part (or even that he exists), but a number of characters note that it's amazing how often events arrange themselves just so to make an improbable happy ending take place.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Caessa went over the bend a long time ago when her father and mother were killed by thieves. Druss realizes she's completely insane in his last battle and she dies believing that she just killed her father's murderer. Throughout her life, she killed her lovers just so she could cry over their bodies to feel alive.
  • "Instant Death" Radius: Druss effectively has one of these when he's wielding Snaga.
  • Insult Backfire: In Waylander II:
    "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."
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Honestly, it'd probably be faster to list the characters who aren't cynical, world-weary survivors who think everything is mostly pointless but who still end up doing what they see as the right thing at great personal cost. Rek, Tenakha Khan and Waylander all fit the bill, just to take some major examples from the early books.
  • Last Stand: Legend.
  • The Magnificent:
    • Druss the Legend, Captain of the Silver Axe, Deathwalker, The Silverslayer.
    • Skilgannon the Damned.
    • Decado the Ice Killer.
    • Tenakha Khan, the Khan of Shadows.
    • Ananias the Golden One.
  • Medieval Stasis: There's less cultural and technological development over the hundreds of years covered by the series than one might expect. In particular, The Swords of Night and Day jacks an established character forward a thousand years in a Fish out of Temporal Water plot. Despite some political upheaval, technology has more or less remained the exact same, with some advances in monster-making techniques being the only difference.
  • 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, Skilgannon, and Decado.
  • Near-Villain Victory: In Legend, the day is saved at a point when there are only a handful of defenders left who can do nothing to stop the beseiging horde rolling straight over them, and the horde is moments away from doing exactly that.
  • Old Master:
    • Angel (Old Hard-to-Kill).
    • Druss, at the time of Legend, is an unusually blunt variant of this trope. Sixty years old, built like a bull, and quite capable of single-handedly slaughtering a dozen men half his age. His presence, and wisdom, inspire the younger characters to heroism; after all, he is a living legend. Meanwhile, he's trying to pretend he's not half-dead from exhaustion, agonised by arthritis, and determined to avoid senility through battle.
  • One-Man Army: Druss the Legend. As a young man, with no training, he kills six well-armed veterans with a wood axe. Similar incidents occur throughout his life, culminating in his last battle where he takes out over thirty men single-handed despite being hampered by age, poison, and fatal wounds. He is described as having a near-supernatural ability to sense the ebb and flow of a fight and using that knowledge to turn the fight in his favour.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Nadir live for war and, at the time period of Legend, had spent most of their time engaged in inter-tribal hostilities until Ulric hammered them together into an army at swordpoint. After Druss's death, some of the high-ranking defenders go and visit the Nadir, who are giving their fallen Worthy Opponent an honourable Nadir funeral; they abide by the terms of Sacred Hospitality when invoked, share drinks and stories with the leaders of their enemies, and Ulric even agrees to ensure that, when Dros Delnoch falls, Rek is buried next to his wife rather than given a Nadir-style pyre or left for the crows.
  • Rasputinian Death: In Hero in the Shadows, a magician with a powerful healing factor 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.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: There's a reason the first part of Druss's Iron Code is "Never violate a woman."
  • Red Baron:
    • In Legend, the bad guys address Druss simply as Deathwalker.
    • Dakeyras, more commonly known as Waylander.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: In a rather poignant example, Gemmell wrote the first draft for Legend while waiting to find out whether he had cancer, and he decided that if the test came back positive the book would end with Delnoch's fall. The reason why the heroes end up getting a stay of execution is because he did.
  • Religion of Evil: The Dark Brotherhood.
  • Retired Badass: Druss is in his forties and already retired when he fights at Skeln Pass and in his sixties when he comes out of retirement again to fight at Dros Delnoch in Legend.
  • Retired Monster: Decado, until he's persuaded to join The Thirty. Or rather, he has an epiphany moment where he realises that he's a murderer: his rationale is that because he's just that good, his enemies have always been defenceless.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Lebus the Tracker, a cavalry officer in Legend, retells how a fight happened, move by move, just from the footprints in an alleyway.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Druss and his nearly lifelong companion Sieben, who is a wand-slim poet obsessive 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.
  • Sentient Cosmic Force: Priests are dedicated to the Source, which imparts mystical powers.
  • Simple, yet Opulent: Chareos' sabre is a simple, unadorned and workmanlike sword, which cost as much as a good horse and is perfectly crafted, balanced and polished. The Ultimate Blacksmith who made it mentions that he puts the fancy hilts on his apprentice's blades and sells them to people who just want the "brand name", and keeps his own work in simpler hilts for people who actually know how to judge weapons and intend to use them.
  • Shrouded in Myth: A pervasive theme is how the deeds of 'heroes' (and in many cases the inverted commas are necessary) are passed on in stories. By Druss' time, Waylander has been transformed from a backstabbing regicide Anti-Hero who was less than sporting at the best of times to a Knight In Shining Armour in the popular imagination. Druss himself becomes a larger-than-life legendary figure within his own lifetime.
  • The Siege: A staple of the series.
  • The Team Normal: In The King Beyond The Gate Decado, despite having no psychic abilites whatsoever, becomes (against his will) the Voice of The Thirty because all the usual signs indicate that he should. He does an excellent job despite this setback, in one scene winning a duel with a psychic opponent (capable of reading his mind to predict attacks) because he was simply so quick that it didn't matter. And then he actually does gain psychic abilities towards the end of the book.
  • Technicolor Eyes: 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.
  • Tranquil Fury: In Waylander, Dardalion uses his powers to observe Waylander's aura and describes it as a state of "controlled fury".
  • Try Not to Die: From Legend:
    Rek: Any last words of advice?
    Druss: Live!
  • 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.
    • Decado II has blacked out and killed everything in sight when put under severe stress.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Apparently a literal English translation of the word 'Sathuli'.
  • Warrior Monk: The Thirty are a group of warrior monks, who spend their lives training to fight in one battle against evil where all but one of them will die. The survivor is usually sent away before the final attack or their last stand and will form the next Thirty.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: In Winter Warriors, the Big Bad sends nine nearly invincible demonic warriors after the heroes. They have super-strength, inhuman stamina and fighting skill, can track humans by scent, and are immune to edged weapons. In fact, they're only vulnerable to two things — namely, wood and water. Cue lots of impalement on sprung branches and getting pushed off bridges to a humiliating and watery grave.
  • When You Snatch the Pebble: A variation occurs in Waylander, where the title character uses a similar task to determine if another character is good enough to start training. He throws a pebble at her in the dark, having told her that if she fails to catch it she has to leave and they'll never see each other again. The point to the exercise was to live completely in the moment and realise that no matter the stakes, the pebble was only just a pebble.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The final page of each of his novels always tell what happens to the characters after the story.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Ulric seems rather fond of Rek.
    [H]e was a mighty man. And rare. He was a man with doubts who overcame them. He stood on the walls of Dros Delnoch and defied me with his pitiful force, and I loved him for it.
    • The Nadir pretty much worship Druss as the ultimate worthy opponent.
  • 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!), Bison from Winter Warriors, 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 Do Not Want To Know: Subverted in Waylander II, due to the sadistic nature of Zhu Chao.
    Zhu Chao: You would not like to see what [your son] became. Therefore I shall show you.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): The First Chronicles Of Druss The Legend, Hero In The Shadows, The Swords Of Night And Day, The King Beyond The Gate, Winter Warriors, Waylander, Quest For Lost Heroes, Legend 1984