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Disambig icon This article is about the novel. For other uses, see Legend (disambiguation).

Legend has all the flaws you expect in a first novel, but it has a heart that wouldn't be bettered by improving its style. I am as proud of that book as I am of anything I've done in my life.

David Gemmell

Legend is the first and most famous novel by David Gemmell, first published in 1984. It belongs to the Drenai series.

The novel depicts the Siege of Dros Delnoch, in which Druss the Legend and a small group of Drenai defenders are vastly outnumbered by an invading Nadir army led by the warlord Ulric. Legend was written during a time when Gemmell thought he was dying of cancer, and the plot is a reflection of this.

Held by many to be Gemmell's most iconic work, the book is considered a classic in the heroic fantasy genre.

Plot summary[]

For a detailed chapter-by-chapter summary, see Legend/Chapters.

The Nadir horde of Ulric the Uniter has conquered several northern nations and prepares for an invasion southward into Drenai territory with an army of 500,000 warriors. The fate of the Drenai empire hinges on the defence of Dros Delnoch, a fortress guarding a mountain pass into Drenai lands. If the fortress can hold for three months, the Drenai may be able to muster a force capable of repelling the Nadir invasion. But the Drenai army has dwindled during the reign of Lord Abalayn, and the Delnoch garrison has been reduced to less than ten thousand men, under the leadership of Abalayn's incompetent nephew Orrin.

Delnar, the ailing Earl of Bronze, calls upon the aide of Druss the Legend, an ageing hero coming out of retirement for one final battle, and The Thirty, an order of warrior-priests who serve the Source by fighting to the death when summoned to a worthy cause. The Thirty are led by an albino priest named Serbitar and his mentor, Abbot Vintar. Delivering the message to The Thirty is the Earl of Bronze's daughter Virae, who encounters and falls in love with Regnak (Rek), an ex-army officer turned wanderer looking to flee the imminent war. Rek learns that he is a baresark, comes to terms with his fate to stand at Dros Delnoch and eventually marries Virae, becoming earl after her father's death. The couple accompany The Thirty to Delnoch, sailing aboard the Wastrel, fending off Nosta Khan's demonic attacks and battling Sathuli tribesmen along the way.

Though in his sixties and past his prime, Druss succeeds in inspiring and training the Drenai defenders–including farmers Gilad and Bregan–into able soldiers. Even Orrin finds his courage and competence as a general. During preparations for the siege, Druss is faced with tiring administrative responsibilities, pontificating councilmen and an assassination attempt from a treacherous officer. Besides Druss, The Thirty, Earl Regnak and Virae, the defenders are also aided by the well-respected Hogun and his elite Legion as well as forest bandit Bowman and his band of outlaws, including the female archer Caessa.

The Siege of Dros Delnoch begins. The defenders are initially able to fend off several waves of attack from Ulric's army, but ultimately the sheer number of the Nadir tribesmen takes its toll and they are pushed back one wall at a time. Virae is slain at Wall Two, after which Serbitar helps Rek discover his destiny as the Earl of Bronze, donning the legendary armour and sword of Egel. Druss falls valiantly at Wall Four, after being poisoned in an earlier duel with the Nadir champion Nogusha. Ulric honours Druss's death with a funeral feast. Rek and the remaining defenders make their last stand on Wall Six. All of The Thirty are killed but for Arbedark, who is sent away before the final battle in order to found a new temple. The defenders are outnumbered and defeat seems inevitable.

Hope is restored, however, when apparitions of Druss and The Thirty appear at the gates and Joachim Sathuli, a tribal prince whom Rek had befriended earlier, arrives with a force of three thousand warriors. Finally, Ulric is forced to withdraw from the siege due to a civil war brewing at home.

After the battle, Rek learns that Virae was brought back from the dead by Serbitar, and the two go on to live a happy life together, starting a family. Ulric never returns to take Dros Delnoch, dying of dysentery during an invasion of Ventria the following year.

Main characters[]

For a list of all characters, see Legend/Characters.

Front matter[]


This book is dedicated with love to three very special people. My father, Bill Woodford, without whom Druss the Legend would never have stood on the wall of Dros Delnoch. My mother, Olive, who instilled in me a love of stories in which heroes never lied, evil rarely triumphed, and love was always true. And my wife, Valerie, who showed me that life can be like stories.


Grateful thanks are also due to Russell Claughton, Tim Lenton, Tom Taylor, Nick Hopkins, and Stella Graham for their help throughout the project.


Gemmell began writing the book in 1976. He was being tested for cancer, and to take his mind off it he tried writing a book, which he called "The Siege of Dros Delnoch". The fortress and its attackers, the Nadir, were metaphors for him and the cancer. In the end, he was found not to have cancer after all and he forgot about the book, which he claims wasn't very good anyway. However, in 1980, a friend of Gemmell's read the manuscript and told him that the story had potential. Encouraged, Gemmell set to work rewriting the book that would become known as "Legend". It was accepted by Century Hutchinson late in 1982.


The book's title is a reference to the main character, Druss the Legend. Gemmell's original title for the story was "The Siege of Dros Delnoch", though it was never released under this name. The title was changed to Against the Horde in the first US release by Ace Books in 1988. Subsequent re-releases used the original title, Legend.


Legend received mostly positive reviews and is considered by many to be Gemmell's most iconic work and a defining novel in the heroic fantasy genre.

Critic reviews[]

Source Rating Excerpt
The Bookbag 4/5 4/5 "...an overall good, but not great, book."
Fantasy Book Review 8 8.7/10 "Legend is wonderful heroic fantasy with great characters ... I personally do not think that this is Gemmell's finest but it surely has to be his most important, as without it nothing would have followed."
Fantasy Faction 9/10 9/10 "Sure, it’s not perfect ... but what it does have is a great heart and soul."
Geek Syndicate 5/5 5/5 "...it is an absolutely brilliant book full of stunning characters and heroic set pieces. A book that in turns can make you balk at it’s grittiness, the futility of war, cheer for the heroes, smile form ear to ear and be completely moved all within a few pages."
Grasping for the Wind "You will like this book."
Pornokitsch "Legend talks a big game, but doesn't actually deliver on its promise. It does, however, foreshadow bigger and better books in the realm of gritty, military, low-fantasy fiction."
The Ranting Dragon "Legend undoubtedly earned its place in the canon, and thus deserves to be read by those interested in the development of the genre, but it is dated. It lacks the sophistication that experienced readers of modern fantasy tend to demand. ... The story is enjoyable if generic, but I have never seen an ending kill a book like this."
Written With a Sword "Sure, the basic plot is pretty norm.  Small army versus bigger army, oh noes!  But it's the characters, their lives and the subtle plot twists that make this book...well, a classic.  It's these differences that turn Legend from an everyday fantasy novel, into a heroic-fantasy-legend. Legend has something for everyone."
1001 Book Reviews "This is a great introduction to fantasy for those who have yet to try it... it succinctly defines much of what the genre has to offer in one book."


David Gemmell's Legend, a graphic novel adaptation of the novel released in 1993, was written by Stan Nicholls and illustrated by Fangorn.

In 1984, Century Communications produced Legend, a video game for the ZX Spectrum based on the novel.

Covers and editions[]