A friend told me Richard Morgan’s books were difficult to put down, and as Altered Carbon had given Morgan a huge fan-base (though I still haven’t read it), I figured I’d rock up at a book signing and grab a copy of his latest novel, The Steel Remains.
I met Morgan at the Gaslight Bookshop in Fyshwick (along with about a hundred devoted fans). The Gaslight Bookshop is a fantastic little new and second-hand bookshop catering to lovers of speculative fiction in the Canberra region.
My first impression was that Morgan seemed like a pretty nice guy, and that didn’t change as he remained happy to sign book after book for hours – plenty of them dog-eared copies of previously published works.
Because the line was pretty long, I didn’t get to chat beyond a couple of pleasantries, but his genuine appreciation that people were waiting was obvious.
Once home with my shiny, newly-signed copy, I made a start – and found my friend was right – it actually was pretty hard to put down.
To say it’s ‘in your face’ is being mild. More like a kick in the face.
My second impression was that Morgan knows how to write. It started a little slow, but when things began moving, they moved like a bucking horse.
The action takes place in a richly imagined universe so detailed and real you can almost step into it. It begins with the main character Ringol taking a commission to investigate missing girls, and before long he’s shoved into the middle of a conflict that threatens to destroy empires.
Mix in some magic and human-like creatures from another plane of existence, and you’ve got everything you need for a powerful fantasy story.
If I have a criticism, it’s that the protagonist, Ringol, is a rather sullen bastard with a truckload of baggage and a brutal attitude – most of it stemming from the fact he’s gay in a gay-hating society.
It probably doesn’t help that he’s also the hero of Gallows Gap, a war a decade or so in the past, and has to suffer the expectations that everyone places on him. Because of his attitude, I found it hard to get on Ringol’s side. He’s basically a decent guy, but I found I didn’t particularly like him. What empathy Morgan develops through Ringol’s good acts, he peels away with Ringol’s ‘screw you’ attitude.
Overall, The Steel Remains is a grim and gritty book and leaves you feeling wrung out, if satisfied. It’s pretty difficult to find something this powerful and original, so for that alone I’d recommend it.
Morgan doesn’t leave too much to the imagination either, so just prepare yourself for some pretty graphic imagery and brutal character development.
Oh, and be prepared for a sequel or three. It is a fantasy, after all, and there’s some pretty big hints at the end.