This was a kick-ass book. Richard K Morgan makes a jump from science fiction to fantasy, and does so with brutal, coruscating style. What I particularly liked was his approach to the genre; while much of the actual plot reminded my of David Gemmel or M. John Harrison’s first Viriconium novel, the voice was all his own, and was frank, scathing, coarse and powerful. His characters curse like they mean it, are all about sex and money and bitterness, are trapped by memory and family and find escapism in violence, in adventure, in leaving the restrictions of society and cultural norms behind for freedom of being alone.
What’s extra cool is that Morgan’s protag is a compelling anti-hero, which these days isn’t novel but he pulls it off by making Ringil relatable. The man is openly gay in a society that’s as accepting of such sexual freedoms as Iran, and this and his family have shaped him into the man he is today. Thus his sexuality isn’t simply added on for spice, but is an integral part of the tale, a fundamentally important piece in explaining who Ringil is and why he has become the man he is when we meet him.
What’s more, kudos on everybody (except maybe Archeth) having family and family drama. Not in the soap opera way, but in the being real people kind of way, in that they are shaped and defined by their relationships with families, whether it be their homophobic dad (Ringil) or their now superstitious and backward seeming ways (Egar). It grounded everything, gave it surpassing verisimilitude, and made the more violent and supernatural aspects of the novel easier to accept and enjoy.
My only complaint was that much of the novel seemed familiar. The Mongol culture from which Egar stems seemed right out of Gemmel’s Nadir or the horsemen from Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionovar Tapestry, while Ringil himself reminded me frequently of Gemmel’s main characters (Regnak from Legend in how we meet him, or Tenaka Khan for his being an powerful outside from his own culture). But such echoes are rife within fantasy, and if the setting wasn’t particularly original, the plot was fun, and in the end I was reading it for Morgan’s voice and his excellent characters.
So, the Steel Remains, a very good read. Told with verve and attitude, refreshing and modern. I’ll definitely be picking up book 2.