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…amazon.com
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Waylander is one person with a precious few allies against the Vagrian armies, the Black Brotherhood and the Nadir.
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.
Wants: continue with his lonely life as an assassin
Needs: make amends for his past life
Life is preserved when the hero gives his life to save a nation.
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.
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.
Here is a breakdown of the 5 Commandments of Storytelling (from the book the Story Grid):
Waylander starts the chapter thinking he has made big mistakes picking up the priest, the women and the 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.
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!
If you want to learn more about writing a story using the Story Grid methodology, go to the Story Grid Webpage to find free videos and articles on how to implement the methodology.
These articles contain information about the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. They also give details on obligatory scenes and conventions for specific genres, such as the thriller, love story, war story, crime story, and more.
For an example of how these techniques are used, read Jane Austin’s The Pride and the Prejudice with annotations by Shawn Coyne.
Category: 5 commandments, 6 core questions, Authors, Blog, Monthly Action Book Analysis, Progressive Complication, Story Grid, WritersTags: assassin, David Gemmell, drenai, drenai series, fantasy, sword and sorcery, thirller, waylander
Hi, my name is Randy Surles and I edit Thrillers and Action novels. I specialize in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and anything with a military flavor to it.