Author: Andy Remic
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release Date: September 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Aryan
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
They came from the north, and the city fell. It is a time for warriors, a time for heroes. Kell's axe howls out for blood. The land of Falanor has been invaded by an albino army, the Army of Iron. A small group set off to warn the king: Kell, a magnificent and brutal hero; his granddaughter, Nienna and her friend, Katrina; and Saark, the ex-Sword Champion of King Leanoric, disgraced after his affair with the Queen. Fighting their way south, betrayal follows battle, battle follows deviation, and they are attacked from all quarters by deadly warriors, monstrous harvesters who drain blood from their victims to feed their masters. As Falanor comes under heavy attack and invasion, only then does Nienna begin to learn the truth about grandfather Kell -- that he is anything but a hero.
Kell’s Legend is dedicated to the memory of the late David Gemmell, the man who inspired Andy Remic to write fantasy. This book is undoubtedly an homage to Gemmell’s most famous character, Druss the Legend. The first story about Druss’s life, in the novel Legend, came towards the end of his life where he was an old man who had lived through many wars, buried countless friends and enemies and was unsuccessfully trying to settle into retirement. Kell shares many traits with Druss, as he too is an isolated old man who has seen better days, has arthritis in his joints and his only constant companion is a cursed, and possibly demon possessed, double bladed battle axe that made him infamous.
In terms of characterisation Kell speaks like Druss, has a similar code of honour and just as many regrets. After a lifetime of saving lives, fighting in battles and wars that have become ancient history to most people, he finds himself alone, unloved and with nothing to show for it. The only bright spot in his life is his granddaughter, someone that keeps him going, but she is also an innocent young woman who has no idea about who her grandfather really is.
The story doesn’t sit still and the pacing is fast throughout this book. No sooner have we met the characters and learned a little about Kell’s quiet life it is then disrupted by an invading army of albino soldiers from the North. The rest of his neighbours are wiped out almost to a man, and after rescuing his granddaughter and a friend of hers, they flee for their lives. Kell comes out of retirement, wields his wicked axe and hacks and slices his way through the enemy. His granddaughter must not only come to terms with her new life, on the run from an invading army who murder anyone that gets in their way, but she also has a rude awakening about Kell. She quickly realises he isn’t just an old man with lots of war stories but is still a lethal warrior and a force of nature that cannot be easily stopped. The years seem to fall away when Kell is once more hip deep in blood, making him ferocious but also terrifying to those around him.
To begin with I thought the whole book was going to be an analogue for Legend, but Remic introduces several original fantasy creations, steering it away from being a copy. The clockwork vampires and related monsters are something unique and they are the overwhelming force that is wiping away all resistance. Heroes are introduced and their feats made known, only for them to be beaten by the albinos, establishing their credentials as something unstoppable and not seen before. Like Gemmell, characters in Kell’s Legend are sometimes not who they appear to be and your first impressions will be turned on their head. A hero might be stripped of what made him the best and then sent out against the enemy, forcing them to find an inner strength or fight the enemy in another way. It’s a fascinating way of testing someone to see what they’re really made of and if they were a hero just because of their prowess with a sword or if it was because of something else deeper inside.
The rest of the novel is one big bloody and epic adventure where new characters are introduced and story threads laid down which will be pulled together at a later stage in the trilogy. As mentioned the story is very fast paced with cliffhanger endings to a lot of chapters to make you turn the page and keeping read. Once the firing pistol has gone off characterisation often comes through action and brief dialogue, not through internal monologues or discussion. There is no time to think, to stand around talking and considering all the options, it’s fight or die most often and the break-neck pace doesn’t let up at any point. Many of the style choices are similar to those you might find in a thriller, so if you enjoy that kind of a story and are not a fan of the heavier fantasy books which spend a lot of time on world building, then I would recommend Kell’s Legend. A highly entertaining and bloody fantasy novel jam-packed full of action.