The Hawk Queen duology by David Gemmell is a good example of the author’s work, in its mystery, fun, and even its darkness. David Gemmell’s unfortunate passing means that we’ll never have a continuation of this time-twisted adventure, but the two books we do have are gems.
Gemmell’s work is very spiritual and very Christian. With the exception of his historical fiction, I think all of it is set in the same universe, akin to Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere. It’s hard to tell if the magic in these books are magic, or if it’s simply a better understanding physics.
The Hawk Queen books deal with the fate of the highland clans of this world in the face of invaders. They’re very Scottish in tone, with kilts and druids and cattle raiding and games. The books are wrapped around each other, because time travel is a thing here. I can’t tell you which one you should read first. Either will do.
Ironhand’s Daughter is the story of the Hawk Queen herself, Sigarni. The silver-haired girl starts out as wild and untamed huntress. Her past is colored by horrible trauma, and she is in fact the daughter of a great king (Ironhand, natch). The Outlanders defeated the clan’s armies years ago and they now live under the invaders’ cruel yoke. Sigarni has a great destiny to liberate her people, though following it will be deeply painful and entail great loss.
A word of warning about this book: Signari is gang-raped at the turning point of the book. It’s not graphic and you only know about from a druid’s statement and the aftermath. Gemmell’s books get dark and I think this one is the darkest. It’s the only time I’ve ever read a book containing this sort of brutality to a main character where it made sense to be included. It doesn’t feel like some bizarre fetish or an attempt to SAY SOMETHING.
The Hawk Eternal is a book with a lighter tone. It follows the life of Caswallon, a roguish charmer of the clans who becomes much more, and Gaelen, an orphan boy from the lowlands that Caswallon adopts. The violent, Viking-like Aenir have conquered and pillaged the lowlands outside of the clans’ homeland. They are now turning their eyes to the highlands. All these things are tied up in the life of Sigarni. I find this book’s chronicle of the invasion and the years leading up to it very interesting.
I really do wish Gemmell had written more about the adventures of Sigarni and her people. Clearly a lot of things happened after Sigarni took power, but you never know quite exactly what.
Gemmell’s books are truly wonderful epic fantasy. His worlds are large and feel quite real. They are violent books, though there is a lot of fun and sweetness to be found, as well. Genuinely evil things do happen. The books are not ironic or spiteful, though justice is done to those who make foolish, selfish decisions. If you read a lot of them you’ll notice he writes on the same themes regularly. His characters and worlds are so unique however that I never minded.
Pick up Ironhand’s Daughter and The Hawk Eternal if you want to try out some of Gemmell’s books. The Drenai series is loooong, and the Rigante quartet is…a quartet (read that next if you like his writing). I honestly never developed a taste for his historical works, though I do recommend his standalones.