July 9, 2012

Review: The Steel Remains, by Richard K. Morgan

Author: Richard K. Morgan
Title: The Steel Remains
Series: A Land Fit for Heroes (#1)
ISBN: 9780575084810
Publisher:  Del Rey  (January 20th 2009)

Buy your copy:Paperback

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark lord will rise. Such is the prophecy that dogs Ringil Eskiath—Gil, for short—a washed-up mercenary and onetime war hero whose cynicism is surpassed only by the speed of his sword. Gil is estranged from his aristocratic family, but when his mother enlists his help in freeing a cousin sold into slavery, Gil sets out to track her down. But it soon becomes apparent that more is at stake than the fate of one young woman. Grim sorceries are awakening in the land. Some speak in whispers of the return of the Aldrain, a race of widely feared, cruel yet beautiful demons. Now Gil and two old comrades are all that stand in the way of a prophecy whose fulfillment will drown an entire world in blood. But with heroes like these, the cure is likely to be worse than the disease.” (Hardback GoodReads summary)

“When a man you know to be of sound mind tells you his recently deceased mother has just tried to climb in his bedroom window and eat him, you have two options. You can smell his breath, take his pulse and check his pupils to see if he's ingested anything nasty, or you can believe him. Ringil Angeleyes had already tried the first course of action with Bashka the Schoolmaster to no avail, so he put down his pint with an elaborate sigh and went to get his broadsword. And he's not the only one to be dragged from the serious business of drinking for something as mundane as the walking dead. Archeth - pragmatist, cynic and engineer - is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire. Ekar Dragonbane finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. And after a personal encounter with the vengeful gods Poltar the Shaman is about to be an awful lot more careful who he prays to. Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all four of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world.” Paperback GoodReads’ blurb

It had been a while since my last foray into the realms of pure fantasy land, and even longer since it was through a Trad Book but... you know, coming back like this? In style? It makes me understand why I’d miss the genre every now and again.

A fair warning before we proceed: I’ve read the Spanish translation, just for kicks. It was a good job, but names and places might differ from their original (example: the sword. I know “ravensfriend” as “criacuervos”, which means “raising ravens”).

Actually, make it two warnings: this is not a YA book. This is not even an immature adult book. There’s language, there’s violence, there’s sex of the hetero and homosexual kind, and there’s a very frank approach to all this.

That said, let’s get on with the review: I’ll be honest. I picked it up because a Joe Abercrombie quote in the cover. Roughly, it said that Morgan didn’t surpass fantasy clichés, but that he cut them down with an exe and then put them on fire.

Abercrombie was right.

Ringil, our main character (there are two more, but more on that later. Let’s just think about Ringil), is a hero. He’s not a dark hero, or a twisted mind who happens to be the main character. For the most part, he has a heart in the right place, a moral code that might or might not clash against that of the rest of the population, and has seen enough battles fought for the “Right Reasons” that he’s become a cynic about it. I liked this, because I think it’s already been established that I don’t much care for shiny paladins in this genre (given half the chance, you know I’d root for the dark lord!). I liked how gritty and real the situation felt; I liked to see what happened to the soldiers after the war, to the people when the pillage is over. I liked to see the hypocrisy  because it’s too human for any book about human heroes to ignore.  

You know, if this story had only been about Ringil trying to find his cousin, about his family hating him but needing him all the same, about a country trying to pull itself together after a devastating war... I’d have given this one a straight five stars. There were, however, a couple of things that detracted from the book, in my eyes.

One of those things are the other lead characters. We have Archet, member of a different race, technically advanced to the point that it might seem like magic, and Dragonbane, a nomad. Both are old bothers-at-arms with Ringil, and I’m sure they’ll be important in books to come, and they did have a role in this one too, I figure, but I resented being pulled from Ringil’s story to switch to the other’s point of view. In comparison, their arcs were weak and slow-they prepared the story, and Archet’s part was important, I know that, but that didn’t stop me from thinking “noooo! I want back with Ringil!” every time.

The other thing is much more closely tied to the story itself. There are these creatures, these dwendas, beings almost out of a myth. Archet’s race has fought them in the past, ages ago, and even they feared the dwenda. Well, they are back. And they are weird.

I know there’s much worldbuilding ahead. I know I can’t expect to understand something when the character whose eyes I’m borrowing doesn’t know what the heck is going on. In my head, I know it. In my heart, the confusion brought on did more to leave me blank than to leave me wanting to figure out more.

I don’t really understand what are the dwenda. What are Achet’s people, since we’re at it, is also a mystery. I have no idea what was actually going on while Ringil travelled the “places in between time”, and while I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop and I know it’ll eventually make sense, right now all I can say is that my level of investment suffered.

Still, those small things aside, this is a great work for you to read if you like fantasy with an original twist, and if you’re not bothered by explicit, harsh stuff.

If you actually like that sort of thing, as is my case, then you’ll probably love this one (as I did).

1 comment:

  1. I love epic fantasies too because it's so different, from my POV it requires full attention & a hyped up imagination. He world buolding sometimes gets to me but once you get the feel of it things sttart to get amazing. I have to look this up next.