I blame Martin Lewis for this*. After all, it was his blog post that drew my attention to the brilliant review of Kell’s Legend by Jared at Pornokitsch, and furthermore it was he who bemoaned the lack of discernment in the fantasy blogsphere**. So, for all of the above and because
I’m a nutter I love David Gemmell’s brand of low fantasy, I thought I’d give the book a go to see if it really is as bad as Jared said.
Kell’s Legend is dedicated to the late David Gemmell for inspiring Remic to write fantasy, more specifically Remic cites Gemmell’s first novel Legend in the Q&A at the end of the book. This would have been painfully obvious to anyone who has read Gemmell’s debut. For those unfamiliar with Legend, it was about a grizzled axe-wielding veteran forced out of retirement to help fight off an invasion of his homeland by a barbarian horde. Kell’s Legend is about a grizzed axe-wielding veteran forced out of retirement to fight off an invasion of his homeland by a clockwork vampire horde, with added rape and MEGAVIOLENCE(tm).
I could have accepted the plot theft because there’s nothing new under the sun and all that, but Remic proceeds to ‘borrow’ dialogue wholesale from Gemmell as well. Kell refers to his womanising companion Saark as “laddie”, just like Legend‘s Druss, Saark’s own dialogue is reminiscent of Sieben the Saga Master from The Legend of Deathwalker, down to referring to
Druss Kell as “old horse” and Remic even steals Gemmell’s phrase “a man to walk the mountains with”. James Long of Speculative Horizons calls this “a deliberate nod to Gemmell fans” and one that he liked a lot. I call it lazy bullshit.
Underneath the dense layers of homage, there are a few original ideas lurking in the depths. The steampunk twist on vampires (human-clockwork hybrids called “vachines”) is novel and if he’d concentrated more on developing this aspect of his world-building instead of skull-fucking Gemmell’s style into oblivion then perhaps he could have finished with a more substantial product. That is if Remic could write worth a damn. As Martin noted, Gemmell at his best was merely a serviceable writer. Remic’s writing on the other hand makes my eyes bleed. I’m loathe to quote any of the book because it hurts too much but here you go:
More arrows thudded the canker’s flanks, and it reared, pawing the air with deformed arms, hands ending in glinting metal claws, and fangs slid from its jaws as its vampire vachine side emerged and it leapt on a soldier, fangs sinking in, drinking up milky blood and then choking, sitting backwards as swords hacked at its cogs and heavily muscled flesh and it spat out the milk, reached out and grasped an albino by the head, to pull his head clean off trailing spinal column and clinging tendons which pop pop popped as they dangled and swung like ripped cloth.
Please note that the above quote is a single sentence. Angry Robot at this point deserve a massive slap for not getting an editor to fix some of Remic’s more glaring style issues. A good start would be to ditch the overuse of ellipses to add…tension and to stop Remic from coercing hyphens into… splitting up the end of- Sentences. Correcting the constant barrage of typos would also have been nice but that’s a different problem.
Plot-wise, it’s all a confused jumble of MEGAVIOLENT(tm) fight scenes broken up with terrible dialogue and women getting humiliated, raped, killed. If they’re lucky, they merely get kidnapped and given a slow-acting poison. So there’s a nation of clockwork vampires in the far north who need a combination of blood and oil to survive, but they’re running low on the former and send an army of albinos to invade the southern kingdom of Falenor. Alongside the albinos are Harvesters, an allied race who are able to utilise blood-oil magick to subdue the enemy and, er, harvest (imagination failure #1 of many) their blood.
In the process of this grand scheme, they rile Kell who goes on a geriatric rampage to find his grand-daughter Nienna and then to warn Falenor’s king of the impending threat. Along for the ride are Nienna’s university friend Kat and disgraced womanising swordsman Saark. Meanwhile in Falenor’s capital, the king’s wife is captured by the albino army’s leader, General Graal, and raped repeatedly to demoralise the king. If that wasn’t enough misogyny for you, back in Clockwork Vampire Land, a high-born vachine princess is found to be ‘impure’ and is subsequently humiliated, raped repeatedly and a bonus, led around on a leash before she eventually escapes to find her true destiny.
Remic likes his cliffhangers, ending almost every chapter with one of our heroes about to get a sword in the face, but then they inevitably survive through a rubbish plot device. For example, Kell spends most of the book running away from a couple of monstrous cankers (mutated vachines, which incidentally are derivative of Gemmell’s human-animal Joinings) only to later use some magic in his demon-possessed axe that allows him to start slaughtering the things with cheerful abandon. It also turns out that Kell used to hunt vachines which is clearly why he mentioned nothing of the sort for the first half of the book and was confused as to why the invading Army of Iron would want to slaughter the entire population of Falenor. Come on Remic, at least attempt to explain this with something like, oh I don’t know, amnesia suffered as a result of Kell’s alcoholism or repressed memories perhaps. Something however bloody implausible would have been better than Kell suddenly spouting all this knowledge that after acting all stupid (it probably runs in the family judging from Nienna) but then he also completely fails to recognise the trio he put in jail five years previously (whom Remic imaginatively names the Jailers***) so at least he’s consistently dumb. All of that would have enough to be getting on with, but Remic continues to pile on the plot elements which is at odds with Gemmell’s minimalistic approach to world-building and actual concentration on character.
So, in hindsight I should have known better. It turns out that Kell’s Legend really is as bad as Jared said it was, although in my case I can’t honestly say that I’ve read a worse book. This coming from a man who has read virtually all of the Dragonlance books and a fair few of the Forgotten Realms series too). Kell’s Legend should be avoided at all costs. If you’ve read all your Gemmell books to death and are still after a fix, then go and read Ian Graham’s Monument instead****. It’s significantly better and much more in Gemmell’s style, utter bastard protagonist notwithstanding.
And having said all that, I intend to review the rest of the Clockwork Vampires trilogy, because I’m a masochist and someone has to counter the positive reviews of Soul Stealers and Vampire Warlords. Duty calls!.
* Also Angry Robot for reducing each book in their Kindle back catalogue to £1, but mainly Martin.
** He’s absolutely right by the way
*** I don’t think there is a facepalm big enough for that particular naming decision
**** Graham’s website states that he is now writing full-time. Considering Monument was released back in 2002, I’d love to know what’s he been living off since then.