I have been re-reading some David Gemmell recently, in particular the two books he set in ancient Greece - Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince. Brilliant stuff - but by now you would have figured out I am a die-hard Gemmell fan. Even so these two books represent some of his best work (and a great place to start if you have never read any. You have to like fantasy action though!).
One very strong element that weaves through the books (not surprisingly since they are set in Greece) is tragedy, especially on a personal level. The way Gemmell sets up the story has created a tremendous emotional driving force in his characters. He has conflict on many levels - from the classic Dark Vs Light and the threatened birth of a Dark God, to the never-ending chessboard of conflicts between Greek nations - to the struggle within the characters themselves.
The conflict within characters is classic Gemmell territory.
In the background is the seer Tamis fighting to prevent the Dark Birth, yet also fighting her own pride, which blinds her into using the weapons of the enemy and almost dooming them all. Her protege Derae, after being torn from the arms of her lover the Spartan general Parmenion (the main character), is first manipulated, then witness to Tamis' deathbed despair. Even so, she is forced to follow in her footsteps, treading a perilous path between defending the Light and using her formidable powers for destruction.
Parmenion himself is a noble character, yet like all Gemmell's heroes, struggles against the dark side of his own nature. In his case his burning desire for revenge against the Sparta that saw him beaten and humiliated as young man. This later moderates, yet by then the love of his life (Derae) has been sacrificed to Cassandra and is gone from his life (although she survives).
There is a strong element of unrequited love - the two lovers Derae and Parmenion are major players, each yearning for the other yet separated by fate. So beautifully woven into the storyline along with other side plots of a similar nature, each exploring an element of human nature and relationships.
Yet it's so hard on the characters! Seeing them in pain is like being in pain yourself. This dynamic both draws you on and yet makes you suffer with them.
Is it too much?Is that emotional driving force worth the punishment on you and the characters?
Do we need tragedy?