The Steel Remains (Gollancz)

by Richard Morgan | Science Fiction & Fantasy |
ISBN: 0575084812 Global Overview for this book
Registered by emmejo of Cortland, New York USA on 7/3/2017
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3 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by emmejo from Cortland, New York USA on Monday, July 03, 2017
Ringil was a hero, a famous warrior from a well-known family, but these days he's living in a small town, entertaining travelers with stories of his exploits and doing the occasional sell-sword job to pay rent. However, his retirement is interrupted by mystical forces that throw him back together with some old wartime friends.

One thing I've noticed with the few gay-lead sword and sorcery-type novels I've found is that there is usually a slow wind up to revealing the character's preferences, as if we first have to prove that he's actually a badass and get invested in his blood-soaked heroics before risking telling readers that he likes other men. This book does none of that beating around the bush; it is brought up on the first page of the text. From there, Ringil is generally your typical gritty supernatural-sword-wielding hero, alternately hacking, sneaking, and sleeping his way through his enemies to save the day. The trope of a retired hero thrown back into action is an old one, but I found it done very effectively here, with us getting to see the ways the world has moved on and Ringil's attempts to catch back up.

As a S&S fantasy, this wasn't all that unique, but there is a very interesting cast of characters and solid writing to keep a reader engaged.

Journal Entry 2 by emmejo at Trumansburg, New York USA on Friday, July 07, 2017

Released 3 yrs ago (7/7/2017 UTC) at Trumansburg, New York USA

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Sent out as one of the starting books in the LGBTQ+ Bookbox

Journal Entry 3 by wingGoryDetailswing at Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Sunday, July 23, 2017
I've read this one - and the other two books in the trilogy - so I'm leaving this in the bookbox for someone else to enjoy, but I did want to add my comments.

I first "discovered" this title via Audible.com, years ago; I was searching for new books read by my favorite narrator, Simon Vance, and this book came up. I'd never heard of it before, but the description - a sort of "noir" fantasy novel with some interesting twists (including making two of the three main characters gay) - intrigued me.

There's some great world-building here; this book features a large and savage land, focusing on three main regions/cultures and then throwing in a mind-boggling enemy with its own type of existence. It's more of a wouldn't-want-to-live-there world, though I'd love to be able to see some of it - from a distance! I can still see/hear/smell/feel some of the scenes... not always pleasant ones, either! It opens with the central character, Ringil, trying to cope with life as a retired hero, eking out a living in a tiny hamlet where the most excitement he gets is battling the occasional ghoul-creature. [He's from a wealthy family but has largely broken with them - not least because he's gay, in a society where such - those without wealthy families to protect them, anyway - are executed in an excruciatingly brutal way.] But he's getting bored with the quiet life, and is not unwilling to take up a mission to search for a cousin who's been sold into slavery... and that's just the beginning.

While Ringil's the main character, there are two others who also have key roles: Egar, a barbarian from a steppe-dwelling tribe, and Archeth, the sole remaining member of a race that left the Known World at the end of the great war. They fought beside Ringil in that war, but have gone their separate ways since then; Egar is enjoying life as the head man of his tribe, but is getting restless, and Archeth is treading a fine line at the court of a powerful emperor who enjoys trying to make her squirm. The ways in which these far-flung characters are "called to adventure" are intricate, with a touch of divine guidance (if that's what it is - magic, technology, and other-worldly behavior tend to mix and mingle here), and it takes most of the book before they wind up together; in some ways that's frustrating, and yet by the time I got to that point I felt I'd been given an intensive course in the different races, countries, and history of this world - and all without a lot of exposition. Morgan has a nice touch for revealing details without having to fill in the blanks, and while it does mean that one has to take a lot of things on faith - recognizing a description of something Really, Really Bad, for example, without finding out exactly what until later - it lends a you-are-there air to the story.

As if things weren't complicated enough, Ringil eventually comes across Seethlaw, a mysterious and powerful being who seems to be at the center of some strange goings-on - and who also attracts him very, very much. Drawn to follow him, he finds himself in a strange in-between world, and then - ah, and then...

The climax of the book is a vicious, running battle against the vanguard of some Very Dangerous Foes indeed, and the result - well, let's just say that the book begs for a sequel {wry grin}. But the book does end at a point where one could feel somewhat satisfied - except for one point, which I will hide behind white-space as it's a huge spoiler: Ringil's sexual tryst with Seethlaw, while clearly an indication that they were drawn to each other, didn't necessarily mean that they should wind up together, and given the autocratic air and mind-bending cruelty of Seethlaw and his kind, I probably shouldn't have hoped for it, but when Seethlaw was killed I felt badly let down. While it wouldn't be realistic to hope for a changing of loyalties on either side, at the very least I hoped he'd be around as a recurring foe for the sequel - which I hope appears, btw. It was rather like killing off Darth Maul in the first "Star Wars" prequel - don't take out the most interesting villain so soon! [End of spoiler]

As a gritty/heroic-fantasy setting, this one's excellent; sure, there are some familiar elements - mounted nomadic barbarians, decadent nobility, etc. - but the different cultures all seem to fit into this world well, with believable boundaries and rivalries. There were plenty of characters that I liked to some degree or other, while they're all flawed in some ways. And I really want to know what happens next.

I should add that the book contains some pretty strong stuff; the world is full of dangerous creatures, some of which do appalling things to their victims - and some of the humans do things that are even worse. Worst of all might be the bit with the living heads on tree roots; I'm definitely using that in the next D&D game I run. Nightmare fodder indeed...

[The second book in the series, The Cold Commands, took the story in an interesting direction, though I admit I missed some of the characters from Vol. 1. The third and final book is The Dark Defiles. The TV Tropes page on the series may be of interest, but beware of spoilers!]

Journal Entry 4 by emmejo at Trumansburg, New York USA on Tuesday, December 05, 2017
This book rode to the end of the bookbox, and will soon set out to find a new reader.

Journal Entry 5 by emmejo at Trumansburg, New York USA on Friday, March 09, 2018

Released 2 yrs ago (3/9/2018 UTC) at Trumansburg, New York USA

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One of the starting volumes in the Otherworldly (Shrinking) Bookbox

Journal Entry 6 by wingSpatialwing at Arlington, Virginia USA on Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Selected from the Round IV Otherworldly Bookbox.

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