Review of THE STEEL REMAINS by Richard K. Morgan (see his website)
A NOVEL OF THE HIDDEN CITIES
Del Rey, January 2009
Ringle is content enough with his life as bar entertainment, telling his stories in exchange for free room, drink, and the occasional monster-killing. But his mother has other plans. Ringle's cousin has been sold into slavery and she's counting on him to get her back. Archeth does the Emperor's bidding, although she doesn't much like the Emperor or what he orders her to do. This time, though, she can't really argue. Someone, or something, attacked an Imperial harbor city, killed hundreds, sent the rest, including the local militia into flight, and destroyed much of what remains. Worse, the one woman she finds on site tells a story of summoning demons to destroy the Empire that has destroyed her own life. Egar, chief of his clan, wallows in self-hate, in hatred for the petty nature of his people, and in contempt for the tribal gods who do so little for the people. When he offends one of those priests, the days of his rule are numbered, but Egar doesn't give up anything without a fight. Of course, there are other players in the game...players who look a lot like the gods he refuses to believe in.
THE STEEL REMAINS follows these three characters as they explore apparently unrelated events, finally bringing them together as a race of beings who vanished from their planet thousands of years earlier makes its plans for return. It's tough to fight opponents who aren't really there, through whom arrows can pass without doing damage, and who move so quickly that even the most experienced and capable human warrior can barely see the movement, let alone counter it. Still, that's the job Ringle, Egar and Archeth are stuck with.
Author Richard K. Morgan (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Morgan) creates an intriguing world full of human conflict, and with a whole beastiary of gods, demons and aliens. All three primary protagonists are damaged, filled with self-contempt, yet they force themselves to go on (it might have been intriguing, though, if he'd varied them somewhat in their attitudes toward life). The mysterious gods who play with their fates definitely deserve more attention.
Ringle's homosexuality plays a significant element in forming Ringle's character, in his attitude toward those around him, and especially in their attitude toward him. A couple of times, this aspect becomes a bit much, as does Egar's carousing with large-breasted teenagers. Still, these sexual aspects of the characters ring true and help define the characters and drive the story forward.
Overall, I found THE STEEL REMAINS to be a strong and well-written story with interesting characters, a fascinating world, and plenty of fantasy action.
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