Nathan Hawke burst onto the fantasy scene in 2013 with the publication of his first trilogy – three fast-paced, hard-hitting novels about Gallow, an honest man trying to do good in a world where no-one trusts or likes him. Heavy on the Viking influence, but with a pleasing spark of magic. The books got great reviews from fantasy authors such as James Barclay and Tom Lloyd, but also from historical fiction legends Conn Iggulden and Giles Kristian.
Today, Gollancz is proud to publish an omnibus of the amazing trilogy, with lots of new material and short stories interspersed between the original books. And look out for three eBook only short stories next year: THE ANVIL, SOLACE and DRAGON’S REACH.
Many years ago I used to write reviews for the BSFA review magazine, Vector. That was back in the day when I’d just read A Game of Thrones and was busy being blown away by the richness and complexity of it, the dirty realism of this new fantasy that would soon be called grimdark. Most of the fantasy I’d read up to then was the likes of Feist and Eddings and Brooks, the sort of sprawling epic quests to defeat some Lord of Darkness that I suppose have their roots in Middle Earth. One of the first things Vector asked me to review were a pair of David Gemmell’s books. I don’t remember the titles, but I think I was quite sniffy about them. It was my first encounter with Gemmell, and in hindsight I think I was mostly sniffy about them for not being Game of Thrones. I’ve read a lot more Gemmell since then. I take it back.
Fifteen years later, someone wrote much the same about The Crimson Shield. After the obligatory moment of author outrage, it got me thinking. Gallow, to be blunt, doesn’t owe a damn thing to Game of Thrones, just like Gemmell doesn’t owe a damn thing to Middle Earth. If you absolutely must have something contemporary then Gallow owes a little bit of its visceral edge to The Blade Itself, but to some extent I think I was cutting from the same cloth rather than taking any direct inspiration. Gallow owes Gemmell though, no doubt about it. The Gemmell I remember has the same vitality, the same ruthless momentum; at his best there’s a Shakespearean violence to his story-telling (and his best, as far as I’ve read, is Legend, and if you read echoes of the six walls of Dros Delnoch into the six gates of Varyxhun, or of Druss the Legend into Corvin Screambreaker then you’re not far wrong).
I can delve further though. That vitality exists in Robert E Howard too. I read some Howard while I was writing The Crimson Shield, and if there isn’t a streak of Conan in Gallow then I don’t know what went wrong. The whole approach to world-building and story-telling marks the Fateguard trilogy as having roots in pulp action-adventure, sword-and-sorcery or sword-and-sandal prose, but if you like that sort of thing then you could do far worse than read some old viking romances. That, to a large part, is where the story of Gallow was born. They’re great. The scene with Tolvis Loudmouth on the road outside Andhun? That’s straight from the sagas of Egil and Asmund and the like. I love those old stories. They have a wonderful matter-of-fact realism mixed with outlandish fantasy. Anyone who likes a bit of sword-and-sorcery could do worse than read a few.
Speaking of Egil, I can go back yet another couple of thousand years. There’s a sequence in Egil’s saga that’s basically a reworking of the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops. Gallow can point fingers at the Odyssey too. Throughout the whole trilogy, all he really wants is to get back home and be with his family, and that was an entirely conscious piece of plagiarism. So in the end it all comes back to Homer.