Waylander – Fantasy Thriller

David Gemmell is one of my all time favorite fantasy authors. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago, but I loved every single one of his books which included historical fiction, sword and sorcery fantasy, and post-apocalyptic survivor. He is just a great story teller. I wish I could pick his brain on how he wrote his books and came up with his plots.

Waylander is one of his first novels about an assassin with a change of heart. Here is the amazon blurb:

The Drenai King is dead – murdered by a ruthless assassin. Enemy troops swarm into Drenai lands. Their orders are simple – kill every man, woman and child. But there is hope.

Stalked by men who act like beasts and beasts that walk like men, the warrior Waylander must journey into the shadow-haunted lands of the Nadir to find the legendary Armour of Bronze. With this he can turn the tide. But can he be trusted? For he is Waylander the Slayer. The traitor who killed the King…


If you want to read the book, buy it on amazon here.

I just reread the book, for probably the 20th time in my life, and I’m really interested to see how the 6 Core Questions pan out. So, let’s get to it

The Editor’s 6 Core Questions

This post analyzes Waylander by David Gemmell, part of his Drenai series. I will be using the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. The 6 Core Questions answer the following questions.

  • Genre
  • Obligatory Scenes and Conventions
  • Point of View
  • Object of Desire
  • Controlling Idea/ Theme
  • Beginning Hook, Middle Build, Ending Payoff


  • Content: External: Thriller/ Military or Political; Internal: Worldview/ Revelation
  • Time: Long
  • Reality: Fantasy
  • Style: Drama
  • Structure: Archplot

See this article for more information on how the Story Grid interprets Genre.

Obligatory Scenes

An inciting attack by the Villain

The inciting attack by the villain is the assassination of the Drenai King Nialliad. Waylander is the legendary assassin who made the kill and he was hired by the Vagrian Gerneal Kaem. The Villain of this story is Kaem and the Vagrian forces. Waylander is a tool caught in the middle, he had nothing against Nialliad, he just did it for the money.

Hero sidesteps responsibility to take action

Waylander kills five thugs that are torturing a Source priest. After the thugs die, Waylander gathers his horse and starts to leave, telling the priest that he has no reason to free him from his bonds. Waylander is cold as ice, an assassin, and he only thinks about himself, he has no intention of changing who he is.

Forced to leave ordinary world, hero lashes out

The ordinary world for Waylander is this loner assassin life where he trusts no one and only thinks for himself. For some reason, he rescues the Source priest Dardalion against his better judgement. Soon after, they come upon Danyal and two children and the priest persuades Waylander to help rescue them. Waylander is bitter and speaks harshly to Danyal and the priest, explaining that they are slowing him down and making him more of a target.

Discovering and Understanding the Antagonist’s MacGuffin (Villain’s Object of Desire).

When King Orien comes to their camp, he asks that WAylander retrieve his armor and give it to the Drenai forces. This is the villain’s MacGuffin (Kaem and the Vagrians), though everyone is trying to obtain it, to include the leaders of the Drenai and the Nadir. Kaem has ordered the Dark Brotherhood to get the armor and kill Waylander.

Hero’s initial strategy against villain fails

Waylander hires a thief Durmast to lead him to the mountains of Raboas in the lands of the Nadir, but along the way his wagon train is destroyed by the Nadir and Waylander gets separated from Durmast and thinks that Durmast and Danyal are dead.

Realizing he must change his approach to salvage some form of victory, Hero reaches All is Lost moment

Waylander is pursued by Nadir Joinings (werewolves) and the Dark Brotherhood, but he fights his way to the mountain and links up with Durmast and Danyal who is happy to see survived the wagon train massacre. But when he gets to the armor, he finds out that he is not the chosen one and that he can’t retrieve the armor. This is Waylander’s all is lost moment. This is moment when Waylander is trying to make up for his past mistakes, killing the Drenai king and everyone else he assassinated. He was asked by the king to get the armor, but he can’t even do that after all he has done to get to the mountain.

The Hero at the Mercy of the Villain: the central event of the Action story, what the reader is waiting for.  Hero’s gift is expressed in this scene.

Durmast turns out to be the Chosen one and grabs the armor, but as they leave the cave, Waylander kills two scouts and realizes he is the one everyone is following and that if he continues with Durmast and Danyal they will be caught, so he decides to separate from them.

The Nadir come and Waylander kills some before the Joinings come and kill the rest of the Nadir in order to get to Waylander. Waylander kills all but one the joinings and is wounded in the process. About to die, the Dark Brotherhood appear, killing the last joining. They surround Waylander and move in for the kill.

This is just a great Hero at the mercy of the villain moment, three enemies converging, carving away at Waylander’s defenses. There is no way he can survive by just depending on himself as he has done for most of his life.

Waylander’s gift is that he is a killer, but that isn’t enough here. Since the beginning of the novel, Waylander has been a catalyst for other characters to change. First, Waylander helps Dardalion change his view of what the Source is and wants with him. Next, Waylander helps Danyal change from a victim to a stronger personality able to take care of herself and be less fearful. And lastly, he influences Durmast, who returns to help Waylander against the Dark Brotherhood.

Durmast has been built up to be the ultimate selfish betrayer from the beginning, there is nothing in his DNA to suggest he will come back to help Waylander. He has got everything he wants – he will sell the armor and have Danyal. And yet, he is moved that he was the chosen one to take the armor from the cave. And when the Dark Brotherhood pass him on their path to get to Waylander, he is angry that they seem to know what he will do, so he does the opposite and returns to save Waylander. This is such a great example o the surprising but inevitable moment in a novel.

The Hero’s Sacrifice is rewarded

Waylander appears to die in the last fight against the Dark Brotherhood, but he is rewarded when Danyal delivers the Army to the Drenai, making up for all his past transgressions. Ultimately, Kai heals his wounds and he is able to take his revenge on the Vagrian General Kaem and unite with Danyal.

Great last line too, by the way. Gemmell really knows the power of words.

See this article for more information on the Obligatory Scenes of an Thriller Genre story.

Image result for waylander book david gemmell
Image by amazon.fr


Hero, Victim, Villain roles must be clearly defined throughout the story.  The protagonist must be a Hero

  • Hero – Waylander
  • Victim – People of Drenai
  • Villain – Vagrians and their Gerneal Kaem

The Hero’s object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim

Waylander wants to get the armor before the Vagrians and give it to the Drenai to save them from the Vagrian massacre that will happen if the Vagrians win the war.

The power divide between hero and villain is very large

Waylander is one person with a precious few allies against the Vagrian armies, the Black Brotherhood and the Nadir.

Speech in praise of the villain

While Kaem does not get a speech, his actions speak for themselves in the way he sets Waylander up for assassinations he didn’t commit. The Nadir and Joinings (werewolves) have their own speech, and the Black Brotherhood does as well. Though the power of the brotherhood is more demonstrated throughout the book than actually stated. And the ferocity of the Joinings is demonstrated by the reactions of the other Nadir.


The primary POV is 3rd person, mostly limited from Waylander’s perspective. Gemmell also gives some scenes to the other main characters: Danyal, Dardalion, and Gellen. Additionally, some minor characters get a few scenes: Kai, Kaem, Karnak, and some of the soldiers.

Object of Desire

Wants: continue with his lonely life as an assassin

Needs: make amends for his past life

Controlling Idea/ Theme

Life is preserved when the hero gives his life to save a nation.

Image result for waylander book david gemmell
Image by ciaraballentine.com

Beginning Hook, Middle Build, Ending Payoff

Beginning Hook: After killing the Drenai king, Waylander, Waylander is asked by the king’s father to make amends and search out his armor in order to help the Drenai win the war against Vagria. Waylander agrees and begins to relearn compassion causing his associates to think he has gone weak.

  • Inciting Incident: Waylander kills the Drenai king (off page, happened before the novel begins)
  • Turning Point: Waylander is asked by Orien (the Drenai king’s father) to recover his armor and give it to the current Drenai leader in order to bolster support of hopefully win the war against Vagria
  • Crisis: Does Waylander search out the Armor or dies he selfishly continue his life as an assassin?
  • Climax: Waylander decides to make amends for his assassin life and search out the armor
  • Resolution: After taking that first step to make amends for his life as an assassin, Waylander relearns compassion and makes other decisions that are unlike him causing many of his associates to think he has gone weak and seek ways to take advantage of him or kill him.

Value Change:

  • Thriller – Death to life (Drenai king is killed, but Waylander begins to change and starts saving innocents lives). (-/+);
  • Worldview: alone and selfish to more caring. (-/+).

Middle Build: After Waylander finds love again in Danyal, the camp is raided and Waylander thinks that Danyal has been killed. Despite learning the hard lesson that life isn’t fair and losing his guide, Waylander decides to continue his search for the armor by himself and after overcoming many obstacles, he reunites with Durmast and Danyal at the base of the mountain.

  • Inciting Incident: Waylander realizes that he cares for Danyal and that ultimately this makes him weaker
  • Turning Point: Waylander thinks that Danyal is killed by nadir raiders
  • Crisis: After finding and losing love again and losing his guide, Does Waylander give up on his quest or the Armor or continue his search
  • Climax: Waylander continues his quest for the armor
  • Resolution: Waylander overcomes many obstacles and finally reunites with Durmast and Danyal to prepare to enter the mountain where the armor is located, but he is being hunted by multiple enemies

Value Change:

  • Thriller: Waylander is feeling more exposed and threatened because he actually cares about living at the beginning of the MB, but by end, when he reunites with Durmast and Danyal, he knows he is being hunted by many enemies. (-/–)
  • Worldview: At the beginning of the MB, Waylander allowing himself to fall in love with Danyal, but then he loses her during the caravan attack. At that moment, he has a choice to return to his old ways or continue to do the right thing and make a difference by recovering the armor, which he chooses to do. (+/++) – there are a lot of ups and downs through the MB, but I think this best describes the beginning and the end.

Ending Payoff:

  • Inciting Incident: Waylander realizes he isn’t the chosen one and get retrieve the armor
  • Turning Point: Waylander realizes that his presence may cause the group to be captured or killed
  • Crisis: Does Waylander continue in the hopes of surviving and staying with Danyal or does Waylander sacrifice himself so that she can live and get the armor to the Drenai?
  • Climax: Waylander chooses to remain behind, sacrificing himself to give his companions time to get away with the armor.
  • Resolution: Waylander and Durmast are killed by all of their enemies, but Danyal gets away with the armor and the Drenai win the war.

Value Change:

  • Thriller: threatened by all the obstacles in his way to accomplishing the recovery of the armor to death. (-/–)
  • Worldview: disillusioned by not be not having meaning in his life and not being the chosen one to sacrificing his life for Danyal and the Drenai. (-/++)

The 5 Commandments for first 3 Chapters

Here is a breakdown of the 5 Commandments of Storytelling (from the book the Story Grid):

Chapter 1

  • Action – Waylander rescues priest
  • Essential Action – Waylander reveals his way at looking at life
  • Inciting Incident: Waylander kills brigans who stole his horse
  • Turning Point: Priests asks Waylander for help
  • Crisis Question: Does Waylander help and get involved against his current morals, or not?
  • Climax: Waylander does not help
  • Resolution: Waylander changes his mind, though feels he will regret the decision. Something is making Waylander change his ways (the source?) and he is resisting. Waylander treats the priest’s injuries and they travel together

Progressive complications:

  • Waylander must fight 5 horse thieves
  • Priest is injured
  • Priest can’t wear dead men’s clothes
  • Priest will slow Waylander down

Value Shift:

  • Thriller: tortured to alive and healing (priest, Dardalion); (-/+)
  • Worldview: unfeeling to feeling (Waylander); (-/+)

Chapter 2

  • Action – Waylander and the priest rescue Danyal and children
  • Essential Action – Waylander realizes that helping all these people will get him killed
  • Inciting Incident: Waylander and priest let Danyal and the children travel with them after their caravan is destroyed by raiders
  • Turning Point: Dardalion meets on the of the brotherhood while traveling in astral form wo promises to kill him, so Dardalion asks Waylander to look after Danyal and the children after he dies
  • Crisis Question: Does Waylander agree to take care of Danyal and the children?
  • Climax: Waylander doesn’t commit, and instead goes to hunt for the men
  • Resolution: Waylander is gone all day and the seven men arrive at the camp to confront the Dardalion, Danyal, and the children.

Progressive complications:

  • Danyal and the children are stranded
  • Dardalion convinces Waylander to allow them to travel with them
  • Dardalion confronts a member of the Brotherhood in astral from who threatens to kill him
  • Waylander disappears
  • The seven men, including the Brotherhood member, appear at the camp

Value Shift:

  • Thriller: from saved to threatened (Dardalion, Danyal, and the children); (+/-)
  • Worldview: unsympathetic to caring; (-/+)

Chapter 3

  • Action – Waylander saves the group from the raiders
  • Essential Action – Dardalion fights the spirit warrior
  • Inciting Incident: Waylander kills the raider group’s leader and the rest leave
  • Turning Point: Dardalion goes into his astral form to help the children and appears to be dying
  • Crisis Question: Does Waylander watch as Dardalion seems to die or do something?
  • Climax: Waylander is a man of action, he puts weapons inthe unconscious priest’s hands and makes him drink blood
  • Resolution: Dardalion survives, kills the Brotherhood member in astral form, wakes up and eats meat. He appears to have changed.

Progressive Complications:

  • Waylander has to confront seven men
  • Waylander forces the group to change camp sites
  • The children are attacked by the Brotherhood member
  • Dardalion starts to die in astral form
  • Danyal is angry with Waylander for violating the priests beliefs

Value Shift:

  • Thriller: threatened to safe (Danyal, Dardalion, and the children); (-/+)
  • Worldview: suspicious of new way of life to return to old way of thinking (Waylander); (-/–)

Waylander starts the chapter thinking he has made big mistakes picking up the priest, the women and children, and it is making him more of a target since he can’t move as fast and disappear from those following him. In the end of the chapter, he reverts to doing what he does best, killing the leader and then helping the priest by following his instincts and feeding him blood. He is not changing, he is regressing.

More Story Analysis

If you want to see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:

Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.

My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.

Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!

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