The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A dark lord will rise. Such is the prophecy that dogs Ringil Eskiath—Gil, for short—a washed-up mercenary and onetime war hero whose cynicism is surpassed only by the speed of his sword. Gil is estranged from his aristocratic family, but when his mother enlists his help in freeing a cousin sold into slavery, Gil sets out to track her down. But it soon becomes apparent that more is at stake than the fate of one young woman. Grim sorceries are awakening in the land. Some speak in whispers of the return of the Aldrain, a race of widely feared, cruel yet beautiful demons. Now Gil and two old comrades are all that stand in the way of a prophecy whose fulfillment will drown an entire world in blood. But with heroes like these, the cure is likely to be worse than the disease.
I've put off writing this review for a while because I wasn't sure what to say. I didn't want to give too much away. I've had this book on my list for a while because I wanted to read it once someone said it's got great representation of characters of color and different sexualities. I can say I wasn't disappointed.
The Steel Remains is an epic fantasy that has the tone of gritty noir. It's tone is dark with a side of graphic violence and sex, so certainly not for everyone. Why did I like it so much? For one, the characters.
The main character is Ringil, Gil for short. He's a war vet, in his thirties, and getting a little squishy around the middle. He has a very low BS tolerance, and is the kind of person who will tell it like it is. And he's openly gay in a society where that's bound to get you executed. He hasn't been because he's nobility, and he knows this. His dislike of politics basically makes Gil a walking middle finger. Everyone praises him as a hero, but would rather not know too much.
A character like Gil could have been a disaster, but Morgan handles him well. Gil's cynicism is well established and fleshed out. He's relatively intelligent and knows who to speak to when he needs information, and when it isn't time to fight. I rather like him.
Gil's old war friends Egar and Archeth are just as well filled out with their own problems and story arcs. Archeth is a half "alien" advisor to a conquering king, and Egar is the leader of his northern nomadic tribe. Like Gil, these two could have easily fallen into fantasy stereotypes, but feel equally as developed. When all three finally meet up before the book's climax, they mesh well together and you can tell they're old friends.
One of my favorite things about this book was the world building. It really makes this fantasy feel like it could be more speculative fiction with interdimensional bad guys and a long gone alien race with faint steampunk elements.
I gave the book four stars because I thought the pacing was a bit odd in some points. The events jump between Ringil, Egar, and Archeth at their respective locations, and I thought the order should have been rearranged around the middle. I don't know if I'm right because I didn't keep a chronology map, so it remains just a feeling.
So, if you like gritty fantasy with a pseudo sci-fi edge and well rounded characters, than you should check out this book. Make sure you can stand effective descriptions of gore and erotic sex scenes between two men, or erotic sex scenes period. Like I said, not for everybody.
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