by David Gemmell
320 pages, Del Rey
by Hereward L.M. Proops
Sequels, eh? They're difficult buggers to get right. According to the law of diminishing sequels, any follow-up book or film is more than likely going to disappoint fans of the original. Of course, this is the point in the conversation where people rush out saying that “The Empire Strikes Back” is superior to “Star Wars” (doesn't count – different directors and writers) and that “The Godfather: Part 2” is better than “The Godfather” (which it isn't).
I'll get it out the way now. “Waylander II” does not break the law of diminishing sequels. It is an inferior book to “Waylander” but this isn't to say that I didn't enjoy reading it. As I made abundantly clear in my review of Gemmell's original tale of the black clad assassin, I've got a soft spot for “Waylander” and I've returned to the book many times. I had read “Waylander II” before but I had no memory of it whatsoever other than there was a bit where he befriended a dog. This solitary memory of the book didn't bode terribly well but I felt that it wouldn't hurt to give it another read, if only to keep me away from yet another one of Guy N. Smith's terrible books about man-eating crabs.
Ten years have passed since the events of the original novel. Waylander had settled down to a peaceful life with his love-interest Danyal and the two young girls only to find himself widowed after a tragic horse-riding accident (no, really). One of the girls, Krylla, has been married off, leaving Waylander and Miriel living together in a cabin high in the mountains. At eighteen years old, Miriel has developed into the average science-fantasy fanboy's wet-dream. She's beautiful, fond of leather leggings (when not wandering around naked) and has learned many of her adoptive father's legendary fighting skills. Waylander and Miriel's peaceful existence is shattered when a large bounty is placed on the old assassin's head and the fearsome Guild starts sending out their best hired killers. Waylander soon learns why he's been targeted and sets out to exact revenge on the man who commissioned the hit.
Waylander and Miriel are not alone on their journey. Accompanying them is Angel, a scarred misanthropic ex-gladiator who teaches Miriel the art of swordplay, a gruff Nadir warrior by the name of Belash and the dashing, arrogant swordsman Senta. Curiously, both Belash and Senta are introduced in the novel as part of a group of assassins who target Miriel and Waylander. A swift arse-kicking later and they change sides, putting their lives at risk for the people who they were ready to kill a few chapters before. The characters sudden change of heart is never really explained in detail – Belash's strong sense of honour keeps him from killing Waylander and Senta falls head over heels in love with Miriel – but what makes it all the more bizarre is the way in which the main protagonists accept these changes with barely a hint of suspicion. This is just one of the numerous gaps of logic in the novel. Think too hard about any of them and the plot unravels quicker than a badly-knitted cardigan.
But of course we're not meant to think too hard when reading heroic fantasy. We're supposed to be swept up in the adrenalin-pumping action and high drama. Looking at the book in this way, Gemmell is pretty successful. A third of the way through the book and the plot grows increasingly complicated as the band of heroes set out to the lands of the barbaric Nadir in order to prevent an invading army from reaching the ruined keep of Kar-Bazac. Inside the keep is a strange magical force that the sorceror Zhu Chao, leader of the Dark Brotherhood, seeks in order to take over the world. The heroes join forces with the warlike Wolfshead tribe to defend the keep against predictably impossible odds. To top it all, Kesa Khan, the shaman of the Nadir seeks to fulfil a prophecy which will lead to the birth of the warrior who will unite the squabbling Nadir tribes. It's all rather silly and overblown but Gemmell pulls it off by not allowing the pace to slow for one moment. The characters are swept along from one battle to another, encountering hideous monsters, dark magic and all manner of duplicitous rogues. Gemmell even sees fit to cram in a romantic dilemma as Miriel finds herself torn between the charming but vain Senta and the unattractive but dependable Angel.
“Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf” is an undeniably entertaining piece of heroic fantasy. With a larger cast of characters and a more complicated storyline, it is unfortunately neither as tightly plotted nor as focused as the original book. However, the absurdly fast pace of the novel prevents us from questioning some of the sillier aspects and the end result, whilst not perfect, is a satisfactory little romp that will gratify fans of the genre.
Hereward L.M. Proops