The Steel Remains Review

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Steel Remains review Richard Morgan

The Steel Remains review Richard Morgan
I was eager to write my review about The Steel Remains. As you may know, this was a tremendously expected new entry in Fantasy. Richard Morgan showed us what he was capable of in a Sci-Fi setting and when he announced he was trying Fantasy, most people thought it was going to be "cliché-breaking" Fantasy. The novel is really different stuff but not always necessarily for good. In the end, and I mean it... the end, I finally liked this book a lot. It's not the breakthrough I was expecting but it may be worth your time if you're not too "sensitive".

I have read all the Takeshi Kovacs novels (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies) and they are among my favourite Sci-Fi books. Kovacs is a great character, nicely developed, an unforgettable hero. Although I still have Black Man (or Thirteen in the US) waiting for his time, I had a good feeling about this new Morgan novel. I knew it was going to be gory, gritty, full of sex and with plenty of use of the "f" word. When I read on the cover the statements from Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie about the book, I thought that Richard Morgan would be able to impress and destabilize us with something fantastically disturbing. Here is what we are looking at.

The Steel Remains' story is mostly about three veterans (it's a character driven novel, not completely epic stuff) of a difficult war still struggling with their memories of it. I think Morgan really wanted to show us the personal conflict affecting war survivors. The trio is having a hard time getting over it. There's a lot of flashbacks, slowing the pace in the beginning but that help in establishing the background of the protagonists firmly. The three storylines are completely separated until the last few chapters. So you don't really know what's going on in the long run until the end. The convergence of all the plots is not coming as big surprise but when that happens, the pace increases and the book becomes hard to turn down. The epilogue made me expect great things to come.

The novel is narrated with three PoV. Ringil is the hero leader (with a marvelous sword) of the previous war against lizard folks. He was a gay, noble born, rebellious youth who eventually left his family to hang out with the Trelayne mob and train in the academy. He's drinking his past in some backwater village inn when his mother comes asking for his legendary help to find what happened to one of his cousin. He will find out that returning to his old acquaintances is a hardship he did not expect. Eventually, he will meet with Seethlaw, a dwenda and then things will begin to go weird. Archeth is a half Kiriath half human who was left there when the Kiriath left the world. By the way she's a lesbian and often on drugs. She's the emperor personal advisor and his eyes in a town destruction. Finally, Egar is the northern barbaric berserker killer of dragons tribe chief. He's pretty much losing his time with his people. He doesn't respect the traditions anymore and it pisses off his brothers and shaman. His story is not the most compelling... and by the way, he is having lot of sex with a young milkmaid.

As for the world building, I felt that The Steel Remains is very "Sci-Fi-ish". You can feel that the world has history but it's not overly described. The dwenda race looks a lot like some kind of white aliens and the Kiriath had truly evolved technology (even some kinds of AI). Still, there's horseback riding and sword fighting. There's magic in the book, but it's not explained much. You have to assume that it's there. The only exception is the Grey Places used by the Aldrain (Dwenda) and technologically used by the Kiriath.

This book is full of grimy, gory and not just gritty stuff. The battle scenes are well described and very graphical. If you don't like the details of the sword/lance/dagger penetration in someone's head or belly, explicit sex scenes and swearing, then avoid this book. I think that Joe Abercrombie makes a better use of these "tools" (if I can say that), probably more lightly. Morgan's writing feels more voluntarily offensive but in the end I felt that the integration within the world he created feels right. This world is dark and there's not much humour. A friend of mine said that while reading this book, he felt like if Morgan was poking him in the ribs. I have to admit that it's a good way to describe my feelings at some moments. A number of the sex scenes are not really necessary but I felt that when the story started to go full speed, all these details were not important anymore.

Why should you read this book? Firstly, if you already like Richard Morgan's writing, it's a must. If you like to be slightly disconcerted and read something that feels different in tone from the classic fantasy storytelling, this is a book for you. But my advice would be to really make it to the end before judging, it's worth it. I think the author started something fascinating.

Technically, the Gollancz cover really looks like an horror movie poster or a metal album cover (I read that somewhere...), but the cover for the Subterranean Press release is nice. There's no map and no appendix but like I posted previously, a gorgeous map is coming with the MMP release. The book stands at 344 pages.

The Steel Remains review score :

Characterization............. 8 /10
World building............... 7.5 / 10
Magic system................. 6.5 / 10
Story.............................. 7.5 / 10
Writing........................... 8 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8 / 10


Richard Morgan Page


bloggeratf said...

Agree with you 100% on the world building lack of detail issue. I noted in my review that the book had a sci-fi feel to is well, although this very well might be because I had read all the Takeshi Kovacs stuff in the two weeks prior to diving into the Steel Remains. I was also a bit miffed by the fairly overt use of Islam as one of the 'cultures' simply because it is not something that is all that easy to pull off. R Scott Bakker does a great job of it but in that arena Morgan still needs some work.

Phil said...

Hum... I forgot to talk about that Islam similarity...

It seems to be the latest fashion, Peter V. Brett also used it in The Warded Man. It's not a big part of the book but as you said with Morgan, it looks like an easy pull off for Brett too.

Bakker world building prowess probably makes it feel like a more derived version of the Islam culture.

But then, how many writers are portraying their churches like the Christian church?

Anonymous said...

I wasted my money on this book. Not only is one of protagonists gay, the writer decribes his acts with stomach turning detail.

I will never purchase another of his books if this is what he has in store for readers.

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