When it comes to the sub-genre of heroic fantasy, many would see its birth coinciding with Robert E. Howard’s forays into fiction (the literary father of quite a number of sub-genres, as well as the innovator of dozens of others). Heroic fantasy then went through changes, particularly in the post-Lord of the Rings world, but it didn’t truly hit what it is known for today until David Gemmell’s Legend (which will be reviewed on Luke Reviews in the not too distant future) burst onto the scene. The David Gemmell Legend Award was created particularly for this sub-genre, in honor of the late Gemmell’s impact on it. Andy Remic is a proud member of the post-Gemmell school of heroic fantasy, taking tropes Gemmell popularized and adding the modern touch, including more violence. Interested in Andy Remic’s latest work, Kell’s Legend, I jumped at the chance to grab a copy before it is released stateside.
Kell’s Legend, subtitled “Book I of the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles,” follows Kell, a former soldier who is now trying to enjoy his retirement in peace. However, invaders tear into his town, and he takes up arms again to protect that which he values most: his granddaughter, Nienna. The duo acquires two more comrades, Kat, Nienna’s friend, and Saark, self-proclaimed dandy and former soldier for the king. The group leaves to warn the king of the impending invasion, but run into a bunch of trouble, be it invading armies, haunted woods, evil trappers, or even grotesque former-human monsters sent to track them down and kill them.
Remic creates four very well-fleshed out characters, each one playing an important role. His tale is interesting, as it wanders around his created world, introducing the characters’ history and the society they live in without bogging down the action. At times, when the tale follows other, more minor characters, such as the king’s wife, or a disgraced clockwork vampire (the bad guys!), the tale does seem to slow down, but for the most part Remic keeps things tight and fast. At one time, with the disgraced vampire (Anu), I just couldn’t seem to find motivation for a key part in her story, and it became confused, and the change in her antagonist (who at one point wanted her help, but then somehow didn’t need it anymore) was off-putting when it seemed to arise for no reason except to further the plot.
One thing to be warned of ahead of time: this book does not have an ending, so to speak. While I went in expecting a full novel, where there is a wrap up and closure, that leads to the next book, this novel ends on a cliffhanger climax, with one of our heroes diving back into the fray. This can be frustrating, as you wonder how Remic will tie things back together and then come to realize he doesn’t have enough pages to do so, but it is a substantial teaser to draw readers back into this series. Kell’s Legend feels less like the first novel in a series, and more like the first part of a long novel. That is neither good nor bad, but just worth noting.
All in all, the tale is fun, definitely for those who like their fantasy fast and action-packed. As a more-or-less first foray into this sub-genre, it will certainly be enough to get me to check out more books in this vein.