I confess that, despite my intentions to branch out and find new books to review, I have read both of these books before. HOWEVER it was a good 10 years ago and, having recently rescued all my books from my mother-in-law's attic, I felt it was time for a re-read. David Gemmell was (and still is in my opinion) one of the kings of the heroic fantasy genre. His first book, Legend, published in 1984 and here in the UK he was book shop staple. I have read the majority of his books and he remains a firm favourite of mine. He deals almost exclusively in S&S (Sword & Sorcery for the uninitiated) and though he may be accused by of rinsing and repeating his plots / characters, I have always loved his stories.
I decided to review these two books together because they form a series and if you do read Lion of Macedon I imagine that you will want to read Dark Prince too.
Over and again, the aged seeress Tamis scried all the possible tomorrows. In every one, dark forces threatened Greece; terrible evil was poised to re-enter the world. The future held only one hope: a half-caste Spartan boy, Parmenion. So Tamis made it her mission to see that Parmenion would before the deadliest warrior in the world -no matter what the cost.
As Tamis had foreseen, Parmenion's destiny was tied to the Dark God, to Philip, and to the yet-unborn Alexander. All too soon the future was upon them. Parmenion stood poised to defeat evil - or to open the gate for the Dark God to re-enter the world.
The story is set in ancient Greece in the 4th century BC. The books are described by some as historical fantasy and I think this is fair. The places and some of the names will be familiar - Sparta, Athens, Leonidas, Xerxes, Alexander the Great, but Gemmell has added his particular brand of magic and mystery and spread it like a quilt over the familiar Grecian historical landscape. If you are a student of history you will probably enjoy seeing some names you know, but if you aren't then I suspect you will enjoy the books regardless.
What I loved
History melded with fantasy
In my opinion Gemmell had a true gift for taking historic characters and re-imagining their stories. I am no great student of Greek history, however, I enjoy the references to real historical events and like seeing how things might have played out if magic really existed. The way he writes it, I almost believe that that was how it happened.
Following the main character through
The great thing about reading these two books back-to-back is that you get to see Parmenion's journey from childhood all the way to old age. You watch him get manipulated by Tamis at every turn, get pulled and twisted in about in a tangle of prophesy and black magic and try to hold on to his principles throughout. By telling the story over decades you get a true understanding for the characters. I really enjoyed this longevity.
I am an absolute sucker for well paced action and David Gemmell is a true craftsman. I'm not going to lie to you, there is a lot of battles, troop movements and a lot of fight scenes, but personally I like that kind of thing.
What fell flat
It might just be the rose tinted spectacles of that I am wearing and the fact that I might have left it a little too long between finishing the books and writing this review, but I am struggling to find something to put in this section...
So there were a few clichés and sometimes I could see things coming a mile off. After reading the majority of his books, I think I am qualified to say that Gemmell is not a subtle plot kind of guy. That's OK, when I reach for one of his books I am in it for the action, the good vs evil, the underdog story.
If you are down for some classic S&S, with excellent pacing, memorable characters and a hopeless battle against the forces of evil then read these books. I have read them more than once and will probably pick them up again.