Monday, 28 September 2009

Richard Morgan: The Steel Remains (2008)

Edition: Gollancz, 1999

From brutal science fiction, Morgan moves to brutal fantasy with The Steel Remains, first in a new series.

The novel doesn't read as the first in a series, and has an extensive back story: the three main characters played important parts in the victory of the Empire over the Scaled Folk (dragons), leading to what is expected to be a period of peace. Each of them returns home, Ringil to living in an inn, trading on his fame for food, a room, and sexual partners, Egar to become clan chief of his remote northern tribe, and Archeth to become a close advisor to the Emperor. Each remains abivalent at best about the Empire and none are really accepted into the new lives they choose to live. But things change, and the three are jolted out of their effective retirement, eventually realising that the Empire is under attack again from the dwenda, thought by most to be a myth.

As the Takeshi Kovacs novels fitted into the flow of science fiction, so too does The Steel Remains fit into the flow of the fantasy genre. It is reminiscent of highly praised work by authors such as Stephanie Swainston and Joe Abercrombie (who provides the endorsement printed on the front cover, and whose First Law trilogy is very close in tone and world building to The Steel Remains). This is not heroic fantasy, but about seriously flawed individuals who just happen to be talented in particular ways that are useful at the time they happen to live. No one is nice, no one is noble, no one is honourable. Of course, because the novel is written from the point of view of Ringil, Egar and Archeth, the reader comes to sympathise with their points of view if not to particularly like any of them.

While the character of Takeshi Kovacs combined with the idea of resleeving to make Altered Carbon a novel with interesting innovations, this cannot be said of The Steel Remains. It fits well into the current fashion without standing out particularly. The writing is good, and I especially like the way that there is so much background that is effortlessly introduced. It will be interesting to see where the series goes, and I enjoyed reading it. As with the other writers mentioned earlier, and Morgan's earlier science fiction novels, The Steel Remains is not for the easily offended or squeamish; nor indeed is it for those looking for gentle fun. My rating: 7/10.

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