Echoes of the Great Song - a dying empire is invaded from a parallel universe
The Avatar race harnessed the power of the sun and channeled it into crystal powered weapons, ships, and even immortality. Their technology was a combination of science, mysticism, and music. Their greatest scholar, Questor Anu studied the legends of the Vagar people and predicted that their world was due for a mysterious cataclysm. Secure in their superiority his people discounted his warnings as madness but a few followed him and survived. As he predicted the Sun rose in the west, the seas tipped in their bowls, the magnetic poles of their world changed, and a second moon appeared in the sky. An ice age overtook their ruined cities and the surviving 500 Avatars struggled to hold on to their empire as their crystals slowly drained of power. Just as they are losing they are about to fall to the Vagar rebels a new foe appears, the armies of the Crystal Queen Ameiya. With a civilization to match the Avatars at the height of their power, they slaughter all who oppose them and drain sacrifices to feed Ameiya's endless hunger.
The Avatar warrior Talaban is one of the few who acknowledges that their empire is dead. To him its ridiculous to maintain the traditions of a civilization buried under tons of ice and he knows exactly how few of their weapons they can still power against the growing number of Vagar rebels. He is served by Touchstone, a mystic from a primitive people from a far continent. Talaban has promised to return Touchstone to his people if possible and the two have developed a friendship. Questor Ro considers Talaban to be a heretic and unworthy of his heritage. Ro believes it is only a matter of time until they recover their power and since they can extend their lives indefinitely time isn't a problem until the Ameiyan armies appear. Despite his closed minded egotism, Questor Ro is one of their greatest scientists and mystics. Viruk is the epitome of an Avatar warrior. He delights in slaughter, finds peace in the garden he has designed at his home, and is randomly kind or cruel to people depending on his mood. He is completely insane and couldn't care less what anyone thinks. In a moment of generosity Viruk cures the Vagar woman Sofarita of a cancer which both saves her life and dooms her. To the Avatars she is an abomination, but she may also be their only weapon against Ameiya,
In my opinion Echoes of the Great Song was David Gemmel's finest work. While it may not have the raw emotional power of Legend, the overall quality of the writing is better. Echoes has enough detail to fill out the world without the heavy overdone feel of Gemmel's later works. Touchstone's people passed down his story through oral tradition and each chapter begins with their tale of gods and monsters based upon what happened. It adds a lyrical quality to the real story. Gemmel doesn't spend much time on character development but that works with this plot very well. Ironically for an immortal people, the Avatars have run out of time. Since this is no surprise to Talaban his growth is limited and acting the hero is just something he would do. He does gain a new appreciation of Viruk who is simply delighted to kill as many Ameiyan's as possible. Viruk's madness sets him beyond character development because he is already about contrast and contradictions. Since Questor Ro seems the least likely to sacrifice himself for the common good and it requires a lot of mental adjustments along the way, but that only makes him stand out at the end as the most heroic of the group.