Monday 17 August 2009

The Steel Remains - Richard Morgan

I have read a large number of reviews that indicate Richard Morgan is doing something fresh and new with The Steel Remains, his first book in a fantasy trilogy. However, I would respectfully disagree. I could see elements of David Gemmell and Michael Moorcock in the writing. Before his untimely death, Gemmell handled the creating of characters that are drawn from shades of grey - anti-heros and fighters held up to be heros but have the morals of the worst kind of human beings. Ringil, Archeth and Egar are characters from this same mould - ambigious motives and less than black and white characteristics.

The way in which Morgan differs from Gemmell is in both the well-publicised swearing and the homosexuality of Ringil. I was disappointed in the way that Morgan handled the latter, to be honest. I don't mind the homosexual sex scenes, and I don't mind the idea that Ringil is considered to be a degenerate, but I do mind the constant references to it. It was almost as though Morgan worried that if he didn't drum it home every few chapters, then the reader might forget this element of Ringil's character.

The start of the story was extremely slow. For such a slight fantasy novel (a mere 350 pages or so, in the edition I read) it took me well over a week to get through. I attribute this to the fact that the three main characters were completely separate and following different storylines up to about the last five chapters. I am familiar with cliffhanger chapter endings and multiple story viewpoints from many other fantasy books, but usually you are given a period of time with the group of characters together before they proceed on their separate storylines - this allows you time in which to bond with the characters so that when they do go their separate ways, you have an investment in the people and the trials and tribulations they face. With this book, Morgan plunged straight into multiple viewpoints and, just as one character got halfway interesting, we were shifted to the start of a new character's story and had to spend time getting to know this character.

With those negatives aside, this was a thumping good read - Ringil was never less than entertaining, and we are given a large number of hints into his background and into events from his past that give reasons for his world-weary take on life. The Dwenda are fabulous as enemies - I feel Morgan draws heavily on fey mythology (and I had echoes of the elves in Lords and Ladies while I read about the dwenda).

Eventually you completely invest in the characters and are cheering them on in the breathless climax, where Morgan demonstrates that his writing of fight scenes is second to none.
An impressive fantasy novel.

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