Plot SynopsisRingil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap is a legend to all who don't know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteran of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire's slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives. Archeth - pragmatist, cynic and engineer, the last of her race - is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire and sent to its farthest reaches to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire's borders. Egar Dragonbane, steppe-nomad, one-time fighter for the Empire finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. But out in the wider world there is something on the move far more alien than any of his tribe's petty gods. Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world. Called upon by an Empire that owes them everything and gave them nothing.
What did we think?
A novel far more controversial and modern in feel than its predecessor in the book club. The Steel Remains caused some interesting discussions.
The group were impressed by Morgan's vibrant language and the lively imagery employed which ranged from explicit sex scenes to more domestic fare. Tonally, however, the blackly humorous beginning was felt to hint at a book that wasn't there, the humour quickly ebbing away as the novel became very bleak. Whilst this in itself is not necessarily a negative comment, it will be interesting to see how this tonal "evolution" affects the following books in Morgan's fantasy sequence.
The realism of the novel was striking, it almost seemed as much a War novel with dressings of the Fantastic as a Fantasy novel in its own right. Indeed, the idea of soldiers being tossed aside and forgotten by a society who, feeling safe, no longer needs them was felt to be very close to the bone. Another point which gained much praise was Morgan's challenging of the heterosexual norm in Fantasy, and the respect with which he incorporated these elements into the plot, making the sex scenes graphic but significant.
There was much praise garnered by the impressive backstory which Morgan has clearly cultivated. The world felt fully realised and "already lived in", and the sense that the characters and societies had genuine histories, rather than ones grafted on, was definite. Ringil was described as someone 'you might want to go for a pint with... so long as he doesn't kill you in the process' (Al). At the same time, the sheer volume of names and locations bombarding the reader in the initial phases of the novel, particularly with multiple plot-strings to follow, could get confusing. All said, the backstory was so fascinating that it contributes strongly to our desire to revisit the world in future novels, even to the point where it was more interesting in The Steel Remains than the plot.
The quasi-science fiction element of the novel was fascinating and had clear allusions to Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"). This aspect of the book reminded some of us of Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, as well as Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time. Given the potential of the backstory, and the superb handling of the science-fantasy material, the Dwenda were felt to be disapointing by some. They lacked the threat the novel seemed to bestow upon them, and seemed to diminish as the novel went on (though for some this was a positive rather than negative quality). Comparisons with the Elves in Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies were made, not only because they are both "bat-shit crazy" but also because of their intra-dimensional existence.
On the whole the novel was enjoyed for its feel, and its style. If the plot suffered from "first in a series-blues" then those problems were small enough that they didn't hinder the agreement that this is a series worth watching out for in the future.
The average score given to Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains was 8/10
Votes: Abstain, 7, 7.5, 8, 8.5, 8.5
Wow that was a long summation. Agree with the points? Disagree? Care to add some more, or continue a debate from the session. Post below for all that and more. Also: The book's author has kindly agreed to set aside some time to answer any questions you may have regarding the novel, so just send them to me on the usual address and I'll pass them along en-mass. Thanks guys.