Friday, 18 November 2016

Paradise ~ A Review of David Gemmell's Wolf in Shadow


Every once in a while a book comes along that makes you say, "This is what I'm talking about!" and has you struggling to find the words to explain just why that is. Wolf in Shadow (formerly "The Jerusalem Man") by David Gemmell is just such a book.

As far as this reviewer can ascertain, this novel is not the one he is known for. That would be Legend and the general Drenai series of works. It is not without reason. Legend is a phenomenal story with an incredible cast and an ending that is hard to top, and I assume other stories in that universe are taken with just as great care as his first. Morningstar, as this reviewer has mentioned, was a great sword and sorcery story that fell a little short in a few key areas but was otherwise an unquestionable recommendation. How does Wolf in Shadow stack up to those?

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world teetering on the edge of annihilation. Jon Shannow, the Jerusalem Man, is a gunslinger ridding the land of brigands and the godless on his way to find his home. In other words, this story is very much a western as much as it is sword and sorcery. Shannow soon finds himself up against a demonic cult that sees him as a threat to their existence, in addition to leading a band of nomads to their promised land of Avalon.

Though it is impossible for either to have had influence on the other, the story this reminded me of most was the Trigun anime. It has similar themes; Shannow has much in common with Wolfwood's conflicted killer and has near the skill of Vash, and the ending is similarly powerful. He is also tested by demons, hated by townspeople, and thought of as a monster. His interior struggle mirrors his exterior one, just as it does the characters of Trigun.

And these are all very, very, very, good things.

The character growth of Shannow from a man on the brink of despair and full collapse to slayer of evil, and his search for the Lord of Hosts, are both believable from a Christian standpoint as well as from the quest's narrative. He questions his motives, but does what must be done, and never shirks from evil. Battered and bloody as he might get, there's a reason Satan wants him dead. But he just won't die. Jon Shannow might be my favorite character Mr. Gemmell has written.

Of course I can't mention the positives without talking about the negatives. Though there isn't much to mention.

The beginning chapter is a tad slow. The relationship Shannow has with a woman is fairly pathetic on both sides, but understandable from their perspectives and how the story develops. The problem with the relationship is that is forgotten by one party in a way that makes them unlikable for a good portion of the story and the other in a way that makes you wonder if there was a point for them even getting together in the first place. There is another character who is entirely wasted, being rescued at one point then killed later without any development in between. It was a lost opportunity to not utilize said character in the final act when everyone else is given excellent ends to their character arcs. This person gets the short end of the narrative stick.

That is about all there is to say negatively. Any issues this reviewer has are incredibly minor compared to everything else.

The action in this book is incredible. David Gemmell knows how to stage a confrontation. The action in Legend was top notch, but it is combined here with a western tinge that is wholly Mr. Gemmell's own. The author has a way of making the hopeless appear natural in his setting, characters, and action scenes, while never succumbing to despair and inevitable doom. There is always a crack in the door. It is a magnificent trick.

Of course this being a work of the 1980s infers several things. For one, it is unapologetically violent without reveling in the resulting carnage and aftermath. For another, discussions about Jesus Christ are not whitewashed one way or another into strawmen. Finally, the good guys are unflinchingly good, and the bad guys are definitely evil. There is no banal love of grey here. This book is a battle between good and evil, and doesn't shirk from how messy a war that is.

This is technically the third book in a series (of 5), though it was written first. I haven't read any of the other books yet so I can't say anything about them except that they aren't necessary to read Wolf in Shadow. This book tells a complete story, and I never found myself confused once. But I am still planning on reading the other books in the series.

I'll be frank about this. Wolf in Shadow is why I read stories in the first place. David Gemmell has done it once again. It's the full package.

Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic westerns with biblical themes, demonic cult magic, gun fights, adventure, and a hero you can put your chips in with? Then you should absolutely read Wolf in Shadow. If you don't like those things then maybe imaginative stories aren't for you. You might consider taking up ditch digging instead.

Needless to say, after this and Legend, I will be continuing my journey through Mr. Gemmell's works. I can't imagine what else awaits me.

God bless you, David Gemmell. You truly are one of a kind.

And Wolf in Shadow is a one of kind book.

Highly recommended.

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