Richard Morgan has made quite a name for himself with his science fiction novels, winning several prestigious awards for his books Altered Carbon (2003 Phillip K. Dick Award) and Thirteen/Black Man (2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award).
I have greatly enjoyed reading his Takeshi Kovacs novels, Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies.
The Steel Remains is Morgan's first fantasy novel, and it is pretty terrific. It is the first book in a series that is now to be called A Land Fit for Heroes. There are three main characters, Ringil Eskiath, Egar Dragonbane, and Archeth Indamaninarmal. Ringil is a war hero, the no longer young scion of one of the most important families in the city-state of Ishlin-ichan and a talented swordsman with a famous blade called Ravensfriend forged by aliens. Ringil also happens to be openly gay, which is not accepted culturally or legally. As a gay reader of the book, I was thrilled by this aspect of the character and the book. It is a huge credit to Morgan that he decided to make the most important character in the book, gay, and as a straight author included remarkably well-written (and explicit) sex scenes between this gay character and other men. This aspect of the book has been remarked upon (not often favorably) by mostly straight reviewers. The fact is that explicit sex scenes have been a part of all of Morgan's books that I have read and enjoyed, but as a gay reader I have grown accustomed to reading past those paragraphs. I completely applaud Morgan for creating a lasting (and compelling) work of fiction which will affirm gay readers of fantasy.
Egar Dragonbane and Archeth Indamaninarmal are the other two main characters that complete the trio of veteran warriors who get point-of-view chapters in The Steel Remains. Egar is a huge, muscular "savage from the North" who is well-known for killing (not one, but two) dragons. Archeth is a Kiriath-human "half-breed" who is over two centuries old but who was left behind when the aliens left the world. Archeth is also a lesbian, giving The Steel Remains not one but two main characters who are sexual minorities.
Unfortunately, although the reader might expect the story to be built around this heroic trio, it really is centered around Ringil, and although we get some, we don't get a full understanding of Egar's and Archeth's character. This is fine with me, because Ringil is pretty interesting and compelling a character as created by Morgan. Ringil does have some similarities to Takeshi Kovacs in that they are both extremely adept at meting out violence and they both seem to enjoy bravely picking fights against more powerful foes. They are also not exactly sweetness and light to be around, and have a generally jaundiced view of the world.
The plot of The Steel Remains is not as intricate as Morgan's science fiction masterpieces, but what Morgan does well is provide the setting, background and atmosphere of his novels which make them a fascinating and enthralling place to spend hours of your time. The basic outline of the plot here is what happens after Ringil is asked by his mother to find a cousin who has been sold into slavery and discovers that the criminal elements of the city have been employing an incredibly powerful ghost-like figure called a Dwenda. Ringil, of course, can not resist following the trail of clues to find his cousin regardless of how far afield it takes him or how dangerous the path is.
The Steel Remains is highly recommended, especially for gay readers or fans of adult fantastical novels.
Title: The Steel Remains.
Author: Richard K. Morgan.
Length: 432 pages.
Publisher: Del Rey.
Published: January 20, 2009.
OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).
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