407 pages, Del Rey
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
When a book has a character called Eldicar Manushan, it's a safe bet that it isn't going to be a work of literary fiction. Say it again... Eldicar Manushan. It rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? It is an undeniably silly name and one that is perfectly suited to an undeniably silly fantasy novel. “Hero in the Shadows” is the third and final instalment in the series of novels about the dour assassin Waylander. Like all good fantasy sequels, this novel is ludicrously overblown and spectacularly silly. Barely pronounceable names abound, demons from other dimensions cause bloody havoc and moody anti-heroes face terrible odds. It's all pretty generic stuff that doesn't stretch the boundaries of the genre. This isn't to say that “Hero in the Shadows” isn't a highly enjoyable read. David Gemmell's works of heroic fantasy might not be original but they are readable, fast-paced and, most importantly, very good fun.
Whilst David Gemmell ended “Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf” with the possibility of Waylander's death, “Hero in the Shadows” finds him very much alive and kicking. Thanks to some canny investments, Waylander is now fantastically wealthy and living as a successful merchant in the lands of Kydor. Known to the locals as The Grey Man, Waylander's reclusive life is comfortable and dull. Of course, this sedate existence would make a pretty tedious novel so it's a good job that Gemmell decides to introduce some dimension-hopping demons to spice up proceedings. Naturally, Waylander can't sit back and watch his lands being ravaged by the demon-horde so he slips back into his black-leather breeches and dusts off his throwing knives and trusty double-crossbow.
He's not alone on this adventure. Waylander is accompanied by Keeva Taliana, a beautiful serving-girl who, like Waylander, has a talent for killing. Other than looking good in leather leggings and being able to put up a good fight, Keeva isn't a terribly well-rounded character and one gets the impression that a lot of her story found itself excised during the editing process. A stronger female character comes in the form of Ustarte, a psychic tiger-human hybrid warrior-priestess who hops across dimensions to aid Waylander in his fight against the demons. Then there's Kysumu and Yu Yu Liang. Kysumu is a Rajnee swordsman, a samurai-esque figure who is as deadly with a blade as he is boring. Yu Yu is an arrogant ditch-digger who acquires a Rajnee sword and insists on tagging along with Kysumu in search of fame and glory. Yu Yu's hedonistic ways and boundless enthusiasm provide welcome comic-relief in a story that, despite its inter-dimensional demons and psychic tiger-human hybrids, does seem to take itself a bit too seriously at times.
“Hero in the Shadows” is enjoyable enough and fans of David Gemmell or heroic fantasy will find a lot to like here. However, by setting the novel outside the well-established lands of the Drenai, the story lacks the epic touch of the other books in the sprawling Drenai saga. The novel deals with the standard Gemmell themes of redemption and heroism against unbelievable odds but an over-reliance on whizz-bang magic means that it does lack the human element that helps the readers feel connected to the characters. That said, if you're looking for totally plausible characterisation, you'd be better off moving out of the fantasy section in your local bookstore.
Hereward L.M. Proops