Sunday, 8 March 2009

Review: "The Steel Remains" by Richard K. Morgan

I just picked up Richard K. Morgan's latest ("The Steel Remains") at the American Book Center here in Amsterdam. His previous novels (the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, "Market Forces", "Black Man") have all been science fiction, this is his first fantasy novel.

"The Steel Remains" has swords and sorcery, but the latter is treated in a way that reverses Arthur C. Clarke's famed quote: in this world, magic is indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology. Instead of a spirit world, for example, the principle baddies in the novel travel in a world that lies between all possible worlds and in which time is flexible. Gods and wizards are simply more advanced beings, with their own inhuman agendas. There is even a race who achieve through science what others achieve through evolution.

The sword (and lance-staff) fights in this novel are handled well, as are most of the other period details. As our own middle ages were, the world of "The Steel Remains" is a nasty time and place to be alive. Bloody death comes quickly, as do betrayals, intrigue, and sex. Only occasionally do we get the sense that a modern concept is being translated into its fantasy equivalent for the sake of expedience.

In short, Morgan brings his style to a new genre pretty much intact. It's a fantasy novel, heavy on the noir influences. The epilogue in particular should be familiar to anyone who's read (or seen the film version of) a Dashiel Hammett story. The story's not over until the hero has tracked down and repaid a betrayal of his trust that we should have seen coming all along. (This isn't technically a spoiler, as pretty much all of his previous novels have also shared this feature).

It's a guilty pleasure if ever there was one, but still definitely a pleasure.

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