The Steel Remains

Well, it’s been a busy time lately, what with finishing up one job and preparing for the next. One last work-related out of town trip didn’t help either.

Tomorrow I start my new job with all that entails and I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine. As I’ll be commuting, I plan to read lots, which means lots of posts on what I’ve been reading. I hesitate to call them reviews because they are more like musings. Anyway, to get in to the mood, lately I’ve finished:

The Steel Remains, by Richard Morgan. I picked this up because I’d heard it compared to Joe Abercrombie’s work (I’m such a fangirl; it’s embarrassing). This I found to be both true and not true. And I found that there were things I liked and things I didn’t.

It was a stand-alone novel in a sea of trilogies and series.

I liked that the protagonist was a marginalised minority in his world and that his experiences reflected the shocking, traumatic reality of someone in that position. I liked that the three main characters were all, in some way, outsiders and that it was done without romanticising their positions. These aren’t glorious, loner heroes nobly serving the community. They are damaged people making limited choices. Just like us.

The book is quite bleak and driven by bitterness and anger. I thought that the characters’ awareness of the consequences of their experiences was realistic. Sometimes they faced what had happened to them in the past and was happening to them now and acknowledged how it shaped them, and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they saw themselves clearly and at others they were self-deluding.

I also liked the sex scenes. A couple of days ago, I was sent a news story about the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards and it reminded me that it is apparently difficult to write sex well. Richard Morgan writes sex very well. He whips up an emotional response without losing touch with the earthiness of the act. Brilliant.

As an aside, I wonder if the reason so many great literary names find themselves on the Bad Sex in Fiction Award shortlist is because they’re not that good at writing and sex scenes show up the weaknesses in convoluted, pseudo-intellectual prose. Or perhaps I’m just being snarky. What do you think?

What I didn’t enjoy so much was the rushed ending. At the start of the book we follow three characters who have a shared history and whose lives are being disrupted by similar events. The convention of fantasy fiction is that at some point these three paths will merge. Morgan draws this point out right until the very end. Then, when the three characters come together, the final scenes happen in what seems like a small number of pages. As I was nearing the end of the book and the three hadn’t met I found myself wondering if this was a trilogy after all. While I appreciate that life is often a slow build up to a brief climax leaving you vaguely disappointed, this was perhaps a touch too much realism for the novel.

I felt the exposition was handled in a slightly clumsy way and there were several points where the reader was taken out of the action into interior monologue. This was particularly true at the beginning of the book.

And all the swearing! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually mind swearing. I enjoy the full use of a wide vocabulary. It felt a little heavy handed though. Too much spice for the stew.

All in all, I enjoyed it and I’d recommend it. Unless you don’t like brutal, gritty, realistic depictions of life.

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