Sword in the Storm - by David Gemmell
It was an interesting read, though different to other high fantasy books - the term 'heroic fantasy' is that used in the quotes on the book cover. What I mean is that nothing is certain in the books - anybody could die at any time. There are malevolent spirits who do the strangest things and the main character seems to do nothing but kill things.
Despite this, however, there is none of the sense of annoyance which I have found in other books. Although Connavar (the main character) doesn't do much, he has a developed and interesting personality. There are also other characters who continue to interest the reader and who act based upon their own motives.
One of my main annoyances in many books is the use of 'stage irony' as I believe it is called. By this, I mean when one character knows something the other does not but you REALLY wish they did because they seem to be being so stupid. There is some in this book, but despite this everything still makes me happy.
Perhaps the reason for this is that the book was ultimately rather simple. Although developed techniques were used, they are not prevalent throughout the book. Also, the book is much thinner than some (Fires of heaven, WOT - mighty big) with larger writing, but there is no sense of shortness. There are many small incidents which lend weight to the writing, all of which are interesting. Even the cultures of the underling race are developed - though not to the extent of many other fantasy works.
Ultimately, however, the book details the trail of destruction behind the main character. This is not a completely bad thing, as the writing is good and the characters interesting, but there is not the depth of emotion to be found in other books, like that between Richard and Kahlan in the Sword of Truth books. I was left feeling that I had really read the story of a jolly romp of a single character (despite other viewpoints) across the world. It was not hugely satisfying. On re-reading, however, I remembered some of the other parts which interested me more.
One redeeming factor comes from the interesting nature of Connavar. He is by no means a hero, killing both women and children in the book. A feat abhorred by his people. Indeed, his motives are dark and dangerous. An interesting read from this point of view, though badly developed.
Ultimately (have I used that word already) the books failing comes from the large timespan and short length. Although it is written well for this style, it cannot equal many other books (or at least in my mind). The story, by necessity, must be told through several pivotal events rather than explaining things step by step. It is just not my style, though I'm sure others would enjoy it more.
Expanding to Gemmels other work, part of the disappointment came from the number of different characters he has written about. I dislike having a huge number of fantasy viewpoints as none of them become sufficiently real in my head to become compelling. this is particularly noticeable in Sword in the Storm (and probably other Gemmell work) as there is very little world history explained so the book is essentially read for Connavar.
In lee of this general disappointment, I would say that it would be much better to read Gemmells book 'White Wolf' which introduces the character Skilgannon in a much more developed world. Unfortunately the problem comes from the fact that characters from other Gemmell novels are introduced so full background history eludes the reader which can be annoying. The main character was more likable though (in my opinion at least), and the books was worth reading. I am worried about the stage irony in the next Skilgannong book (The Swords of Night and Day) though - as Skilgannon and Druss (a character introduced in other Gemmell novels but appearing in Wolf) are resurrected in the future. They cant remember their pasts (according to the blurb), but I can. I hate that kind of thing, though the blurb can be misleading so I will eventually read it anyway.
In conclusion, don't start Gemmell with Sword. White Wolf is OK, but it might be best to ask a true Gemmell fan for real input. Other similar books include the first few Sword of Truth books (though they are better written and more interesting). In general, however, most high fantasy is more enjoyable as far as I'm concerned. Try Gemmell, but buy it second hand - as it might not be worth it. Spend your money on James Clemens (anybody read Shadowfall yet?), Terry Goodkind and Robert Jordan for much better novels of the same genre.