Monday, April 14, 2008

The Steel Remains - Richard Morgan

I've been looking forward to this one for a long time. Richard Morgan, purveyor of action-packed cyberpunk noir since 2002, turns his hand to fantasy. In The Steel Remains, Morgan takes his usual themes of grizzled veterans, bloody close-combat fighting and a dark political backdrop, and mixes it up with the fantasy elements of barbarians, vengeful gods and special swords. However, this is not straight fantasy, as his sci-fi background seeps through all over the place - the stars, for example, are not just for telling fortunes by, they are definitely seen as a place you can go to or come from, and we quickly gather more than a few hints that the "magic" is of the sufficiently advanced technology variety. Think The Dying Earth with added barbarian badassery - this is some very superior genre-blending.

"Gritty" has been fantasy's flavour of the month for quite a while now, and gritty is something that Morgan does very well indeed. Our protagonists are three veterans of the last war - Archeth, a black lesbian engineer from an alien race, now working as advisor to a corrupt emperor; Ringil, a gay exiled-noble-turned-battle-commander, now drowning his past in a remote tavern; and Egan, another retired warrior returned to his nomad roots, who doesn't want to admit how much he misses civilisation. The war's messy conclusion has left them all bitter and cynical, as their original ideals of saving mankind were swallowed up in petty border conflicts, religious intolerance and the revival of the slave trade. However, a combination of emerging supernatural menaces and divine intervention forces them all back into the fray, where some very nasty remnants of the world's history are waiting for them...

As the book went on and the stakes kept getting higher, I became increasingly worried that the rapidly-approaching end would either be a disappointing cop-out or a lame half-conclusion leading in to Another Bloody Trilogy - how could something so big be resolved in so few pages? In the event, it was neither - the final battle is satisfyingly bloody with a decent explanation for its relatively small scale, but there are enough loose ends left over to justify at least one more outing in the same world. As has become evident with Takeshi Kovacs and Carl Marsalis, Morgan likes his educated hardcases, and Ringil is another one in the same vein - similarly, half of the fun is the gradually-revealed details of his background, and there's still plenty more of that left a mystery. The plot itself wasn't as tight or convincing as it could have been (for example, the way that the three ended up meeting was rather contrived) but this is a good bit of brutal fantasy fun, with some very interesting characterisation and a nice line in SF-crossover. If we get more from Morgan in the same vein then I'll be one happy bunny.



Blogger Bob Lock said...

Hi Alice,
Ahh this is one book I'm looking forward to reading. I was blown away by Morgan's Altered Carbon and the subsequent sequel to the Kovacs' story. Black Man was yet another I enjoyed. However, I found Market Forces so-so. It will be interesting to see how he handles fantasy instead of SF.
Another SF writer who has delved into fantasy is Neal Asher but he hasn't pushed for his trilogy to be published (well, at least I think that is so). His SF is hard, gritty and well researched, so come on Neal get your sword out for us :)

3:46 pm  
Blogger Mihai A. said...

Sounds like a very interesting read.

10:39 am  
Blogger ThRiNiDiR said...

the best review of "The Steel Remains" I've read to date. kudos!

3:56 pm  
Blogger Adam Whitehead said...

Good stuff. I forgot to mention the blatant SF stuff in my review. The hint that this is our world with one major difference in the night sky was quite interesting, I thought.

11:40 pm  
Blogger Chris, The Book Swede said...

Yep, awesome review. (In fact, in light of yours, I'm putting mine off and re-writing it a bit!

In place of that review, I've just posted my "review" (that is not a review) of Confessor by TG, in which I call you a harlot :)

The Book Swede

11:50 am  
Blogger Alice said...

A harlot??

*dashes off to check the Book Swede's blog*

12:49 pm  
Blogger Melissa said...

Grizzled veterans, bloody close-combat fighting and a dark political backdrop sounds like my cup of thriller sci-fi. Right now I'm reading Some Kind of Angel, which is more mass destruction threatening the security of our world, but still envelopes the whole action/thriller sci-fi I like to read.

2:52 am  

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