My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Steel Remains is a book I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while.. it’s been staring at me on my Ipad for about a year without me cracking it open. I’ve been a fan of Joe Abercrombie for about three years now, and his gritty, realistic hardboiled fantasy introduced in the First Law trilogy, so I was hoping for a new series similar to that one. Richard Morgan is an author that I’m familiar with, having read Altered Carbon and tried to start Market Forces for a Goodreads book club but failed miserably. I like Richard Morgan’s style, too, and discovered he is quite capable of lending his sparse, hard boiled prose style to an epic fantasy setting. How well does he execute this transposition? Well, it’s a mixed bag, really. The Steel Remains takes place in a world that is recovering from a cataclysmic war with some Reptilian race that featured Lizardmen and apparently dragons. I liked that the story starts at least 15 years after the big “Epic Event”.. imagine a Lord of the Rings novel taking place 20 years after the One Ring was destroyed. The story is told through the primary POV characters Ringel, Archeth and Egon, all of whom were heroes of the previous war. Egon (Dragonbane) is a doughty Viking-like northman who has become to urbanized for the tribe he has returned to after the wars. Archeth (Lady kir-Archeth Indamaninarmal) is your elf-standin from the Elf-Standins in this novel, the Kiriath, who have “departed these lands” after the end of the last big war (does that sound familiar, Tolkien fans?). And the PRIMARY focus of the plot is on one Ringil Eskiath, the tough as nails warrior type and anti-hero who did something big and impressive at a place called Gallows Gap during the big war. Right up front, it’s clear, Ringil is gay, and that’s a huge driver in his character. Ringil lives in a world that isn’t very live and let live about homosexuality. Much of his plot line is influenced by societal rejection of Ringil, and society’s grudging respect for his battlefield prowess. The plot was a lot of stuff we’ve seen before in fantasy.. an ancient race called the Dwenda returning to reclaim their world. The Kiriath, their ancient enemies, have long departed these shores. Predictions of dark lords rising, etc. Morgan really amps up scenes to “Noir up” his fantasy, including explicit gay sex scenes told in explicit detail and a very modern argot that I found more off-putting than any sexual references. The casual use of “Fuck” and “Yeah” and other linguistic 20th century speech nuggets took me out of the setting.. frequently. Not a terrible sin. After all, Joe Abercrombie can sling the F-bomb on occasion too, and I love his work.
In general, the plot is decent enough, and I won’t dispute that Morgan is a good writer in the SF genre, at least. The Steel Remains reminded me of a SF novel full of genre archtypes putting on a fantasy costume. Mysterious demigods or demons. Hardbitten heroes.. we’ve kind of seen this before. Maybe Morgan intent was to play with the genre a little and experiment. I liked it enough to try more in this series, but it’s nowhere near as good as Joe Abercrombie’s novels. I’ll give it a solid mezzo-mezzo.