David Gemmell is easily one of the most influential fantasy authors of the modern era. His book, Legend, defines the genre of heroic fantasy. He died in 2006, so it’s with some excitement and surprise that an unpublished novel by the world class author has been released. It was recently uncovered by his wife, and is almost certainly the last ever Gemmell novel to come out.
Rhyming Rings, however, is not a fantasy book. It’s a thriller with a slight supernatural twist, set in roughly the modern day. Well, the 1980s at least. The plot revolves around an arrogant and self-important journalist called Jeremy Miller. The backdrop is a grimy, gritty London that is even less pleasant than its real-world counterpart. Gemmell has always been good at painting a grim picture, but this vision of Britain is as sharp as it is bitter. Filled with intolerance and vices of every possible kind, this is a believable but unpleasant world.
The main character dreams of more exciting stories to cover and a better life in general. Jeremy is arrogant and unlikeable at first; someone who expects to succeed without putting in any of the work. His editor realises that the guy hasn’t got the skills and throws weak assignments in order to get him to quit. One of these leads to a charming old lady who just happens to be able to psychically read information from objects. One thing leads to another, and Jeremy finds himself holding all the clues behind some rather gruesome murders. It’s just a pity he’s such a coward.
Rhyming Rings is not Legend. There is no Druss. The spark and power behind Gemmell’s fantasy work isn’t present; the inspiration behind this book is closer to home and it shows. Gemmell was once a journalist and he did indeed live in London, though we doubt he accidentally solved any crime. However, with the text you can see the shape of stronger and more mature ideas. Rhyming Rings feels like an early attempt at the sort of thing Legend became. There are the odd hints of something remarkable here.
As a work of crime fiction, it’s more than adequate. As a light-supernatural drama, it’s okay. As an artefact that marks the passing of a beloved author, it’s superb. If you’ve been putting off reading Gemmell’s Troy series (his last works), go ahead and dive in, knowing that there’s one more book after that, and it’s also worth your time.
RHYMING RINGS / AUTHOR: DAVID GEMMELL / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW