The Steel Remains – Richard Morgan

The first of a trilogy, this is a fantasy novel by the author of the excellent science fiction book Altered Carbon (worth watching on Netflix). Unfortunately, it does not quite rise to the giddy heights of the latter, though it’s not a bad read, and many will find much to enjoy among its violence, sex, and magic seeped pages.

The book seems to be an attempt to tell three strands of a tale, and then bind them together.

The first is about Ringil, a war hero living his life as a storyteller in a local tavern. He’s a typical sword and sorcery swashbuckler, except that he’s gay.

Then there is Archeth, the Emperor’s pet investigator. She is the last of her race, and offers some kind of link between Ringil and the forces of evil led by the powerful Dwenda.

Finally, Egar Dragonbane, another war hero, stuck in charge of his tribe, and caught in a religious battle he cannot win.

The world building is OK, but a bit disjointed. This is probably because all has not yet been revealed. The pacing of the book is good, with the tension building, and parts of the story really suck you in. Parts. Other parts are not so good, or at least did not draw me in.

Also, I didn’t quite see the melding of the three story lines as being smooth. They are not even strands, and they make for a less than smooth whole. To put it another way, the plot is all over the place.

As for the characters, Ringil is the most rounded, with Archeth and Egar getting the raw end of the deal. I would have preferred to know more about Archeth. Such an imbalance works if the composite effect is of real people – do you get real people in a fantasy novel? – but, to be real, they need to fit in to their world. Here, the characterization structure crumbles, because all around the trio are a veritable forest of cardboard cutouts. Thin ones at that. The effect was like being in a first person shootout; alright, a good one, but that is leagues away from a good story.

Then there’s the sex. There’s a lot of it. I am no prude, but most of it seemed to be gratuitous and do nothing for the advancement of the plot, nor the enrichment of the tale.

On the plus side, there’s enough gutsy action to entertain. The combat scenes were the best written.

Overall, I felt there were some good ideas and interesting hints of characters that needed better kicking into shape before the book could threaten to rise above the average fantasy novel. This is one trilogy, I won’t be persevering with.