Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains is, as I mentioned in my last post, staggeringly awesome. It tells the tale of three unlikely heroes and unlikelier friends, drawn together by a war that threatens to destroy all of humanity, that they manage to win through steel, skill, heart, and the assistance of a more friendly group of non-humans who lay their lives (and their Sufficiently Advanced Technology) on the line to help humanity win the day.
Wait, no. It doesn’t tell that tale at all, really.
The Steel Remains instead picks up nearly a decade later. The enemy is defeated, but victory didn’t prevent humanity from quickly finding ways to begin destroying itself again. Our heroes find themselves exiled and marginalized thanks to their culture, heritage, or sexuality… but still called upon when the world needs saving.
With this novel, Morgan brings the same level of craft and bravado to fantasy that he brought to sci-fi in the Takeshi Kovacs series. While this means that readers should be prepared for lots of graphic sex and violence, they’ll also discover excellent characterization, beautiful imagery, genuine horror, insightful social commentary, and deconstruction of genre thoroughly grounded in love for that genre. (Morgan specifically cites Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, and Poul Anderson as influences, but it’s tough not to see shades of Conan in the characters of both the swordsman Ringil and the barbarian Egar.) This novel also demonstrates again Morgan’s ability to balance high concept with strong storytelling, a rare commodity in fantasy and sci-fi.
In short, The Steel Remains is one helluva ride. I can’t wait for the sequel.