I tried to push the events of the week from my mind. My mother was dying, I was waiting to be fired, and staff, who had joined my team in good faith, were facing redundancy. After the fifth large Armagnac I decided to continue work on the book. I knew I was drunk, and I also knew that the chances of writing anything worthwhile were prettty negligible. But forcing my mind into a fantasy world seemed infinitely more appealing than concentrating on the reality at hand.
That’s Gemmell’s own description of how he came to write Wolf in Shadow, from the foreword to my omnibus edition. Drunk and despairing in 1986, in a cheap and unfriendly seaside hotel that he describes, borrowing a line from Jack Dee, as “the kind of place where the Gideons leave a rope”, he tried to work on Wolf in Shadow, his contractually-obligated saga of a ruthless warlord rising to power among a nomadic horde (the prequel to his iconic 1984 fantasy Legend)… but he found his fingers with a mind of their own. He began writing a paragraph in which a mounted scout was to crest a hill, look down onto the plain, and marvelled at a vast army below… but instead, at the climactic moment of discovery, his fingers wrote out for him: There was no sign of Jerusalem.
I’ve not been doing well with reading, recently. Mired in a Soviet monolith of an epic, I’ve been trying to sneak in a few nostalgic comfort-reads and the like, but even that hasn’t been entirely successful (the penultimate Discworld novel, in particular, is easy to read, yet also disheartening). So I turned once more to Simon Green’s Hawk and Fisher novels – I haven’t read this particular one before, but they’re the kind of thing you know is going to be unchallenging and mildly entertaining. I had a little while before I needed to sleep, this being a weekend, and so I thought I’d make a start on Wolf in the Fold.
Later, at an ungodly hour of the morning, I realised I’d accidentally read the entire novel in one sitting. True, it’s under 200 pages so it barely counts as a novel, but still – I haven’t done that in a while. Turns out, Wolf in the Fold is actually… well, kind of good.
When I first started this re-read project, people warned me: Raising Steam (one of a handful of Discworld books I had not yet read) is not very good. Throughout the project, I’ve been wondering: what does that mean? How bad is not good? Can it really be so much worse than, say, Unseen Academicals?
Yes. It can be, and it is.
I have always said: there’s no such thing as a bad Discworld novel. There are brilliant ones, good ones, and merely adequate ones. But none are ever outright bad.
I was distracted from writing this review at the time I actually read the book, so this will be brief…
When I was young, some of my favourite books were by Enid Blyton. Oh sure, my favourite book was The Lord of the Rings. But aside from that, Enid Blyton was high on the list. I never read Noddy; I think I only ever read one Secret Seven. And most shockingly, I never read any Famous Five at all (though I did once have a very complicated sort of choose-your-own-adventure Famous Five kit with dice and special apparatus).
What I read, and what I adored, were her eight Adventure novels, starting with this, The Island of Adventure.
At the end of my boyhood and at the age of being able to manage a horse, I was brought to Lille before Duke Charles of Burgundy, then called the Count of Charolais, who took me into his service. This was the year 1464.
When Legends was published, in 1998, it seemed not only welcome, but necessary. The empire of literature, it goes without saying, has for at least a century been too broad for any one reader to know it all first-hand in one lifetime. Even in a single field, a single subgenre, it can be hard for a reader to really have a firm grasp of the state of the art (let alone the canon of classics). We all hear names, from time to time, of this writer or that, and make a mental note to catch-up… but how often do most of us follow through? It’s a perennial problem… but it may never have been a more pressing problem than in the epic fantasy genre of the late 1990s.
I had, until recently, never read Pride and Prejudice. I didn’t really know, therefore, what to expect: the witty, piercing Austen acclaimed by critics, or the comfortable fantasyland of bonnets and bridal attire trumpeted by many of its general readers.