tisdag 15 maj 2012

The Cold Commands

The Gollancz Cover
I know I promised the review some time back, likely more than a week now, so my most sincere apologies. I'm sad to say that my main culprit is work, and I'm finding it hard to sneak time for reading and writing. But without much further ado, here's the review I've conjured!

The Cold Commands is Richard K Morgan's follow-up to debut fantasy novel The Steel Remains. I wasn't familiar with Morgan until I saw the hype for Black Man which I went on to read as a first sci-fi book outside of the Star Wars novels. Black Man is a sci-fi tale of futuristic super soldiers turned superfluous due to politics mainly, and it was a thouroughly satisfying read with Morgan's signature high pace and action packed to the brim. When I read that Morgan was releasing a fantasy trilogy I jumped at the first sight of the Steel Remains in my local bookstore.

I will say that I'm not familiar with Morgan's writing apart from Black Man and the Steel Remains but his style is something that hooked me directly. There's a high tempo, even when I feel like nothing is really jumping at me from out of the page the tempo is high and it sucks you in. I believe many are familiar with Morgan's "main hero" Ringil Eskiath because of him being a non-apologetic gay anti-hero, something which goes against most of the original (well most) fantasy troupes. I won't delve too far into those parts though, except to say that it is far from the only schock value of the books.
Morgan's series is cold and brutal, with cynical heroes in the modern many shades of gray perhaps past their prime, and you just feel that as the story goes on they are reacting to, and growing with, the events of the story.

Subterranean Press cover
Ringil Eskiath is coloured more fully after the events of the Steel Remains and we see his continued development through deserted comrades, butchered enemies and graphic sexual encounters. But you know what, it works. Morgan has definetely made him into one of my favourite anti-heroes with his ongoing development, reminding me of Caul Shivers descent into darkness in Best Served Cold but without the bitter aftertaste. I clung to words mentioned by Liviu Suciu at the Fantasy Book Critic, there are simply no dull parts in the novel where you have to skim through characters and events you're not particularly interested in. Egar Dragonsbane's storyline sees him fleshed out and evolving into quite a character on his own. The Dwenda make further appearances and it's good reading to see just what they, and of course the Dragonsbane, are capable of.

Even Archeth Indamaninarmal, who I found a bit of a tedious read in the Steel Remains, garners attention and grows as a character in her relationship with the Emperor Jhiral Khimran II. And it is also in her chapters that we see much of the plot development as well as the better parts of the worldbuilding. I've found that after having finished the second novel in the stories, while you've learned a bit more of the back story, you are still not anywhere closer to figuring out just what the big threat is. We've seen the Dwenda, and we know that they are not that numerous and while notoriously hard to kill they aren't that big of a deal. So I am very interested in seeing where Morgan is taking his three main characters. When you browse the internet and you look around other reviews you quickly find quite a few brandishing this a build-up novel and a typical mid-series jump off just to set the scene for the third and final book in the series. I'd agree in principle due in part to the facts that Morgan does seem to the set the scene for a showdown with the Illwrack Changeling and his allies but so far we've seen little threat to the threesome that is Ringil, Egar and Archeth. Especially now with Ringil's shadowy allies coming to the front. But I disagree with the Cold Commands being just a transport between book 1 and book 3 because we see a wealth of both character defining moments as well as more in-depth worldbuilding.

With the novels being as short as they are I suppose Morgan could've bandied the two books together and gone for an epic fantasy novel-sized book of somewhere around 900 pages. But I find this works, there's enough action and plotting to make you turn the page and I for one am quite looking forward to the final piece in the series, the Dark Defiles. My main concern is that I do not quite feel the all-encompassing threat that threatens the world, even if the characters and the worldbuilding has me turning the page anyway.
All in all I found it an enjoyable read, with gripping suspense through brutal action and intriguing character development and the groundwork for what will likely be a high pace ending to the series.


REMINDS ME OF: The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss in that both series do not exactly jump at you in terms of plot development. There are long periods of time where nothing really seems to happen but you are still gripped with a can't-stop-turning-the-page kind of fever.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie because of the raw, gritty action and so many shades of gray characters and anti-heroes that are under development.

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