The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I had high hopes for this novel. I loved Altered Carbon and thought that if Morgan could live up to half of that book, but in a fantasy setting I’d be very happy. Unfortunately, he’s not up to the job. In fact I’d go so far as to say that the book feels forced, driven by a few ideas clearly meant by the author to be "controversial" in the fantasy genre, creating a work which feels rather contrived. Let’s see…
Sex. Homosexual sex. And heterosexual sex. I applaud introducing a gay main character. Also I applaud introducing sexual prejudices and discrimination. A good idea. However, it quickly turns repetitive and predictable. And is used to the point it actually becomes a rather obvious and bad plot device (in fact a "plot coupon" to use Nick Lowe’s description in "The well-tempered plot device").
(For the record, I have nothing against sex in literature or real life. I like sex. But I don’t like the creeping feeling the that the author added the sex to be somehow more "controversial".)
Profanity. Morgan seems to think he will revolutionize the fantasy genre by inserting the word "f*ck" and its variations. Unfortunately he fails in all dialogues, as it turns out *every* character uses it. Really every one. From grand old ladies to beggars and emperors and warriors and dark elves. Look, characters usually have some variation in the way they speak. And as the f-word becomes rapidly obvious, every time it is used the suspension of disbelief the author tries to build up collapses yet again. And again. And again. Profanity is fine, but be creative for gods sake.
(Graphic violence. Well, anyone who’ve read Altered Carbon won’t be surprised. I personally think he’s on the border of what is tolerable, but I don’t have a problem with it.)
So, what do we get if we would remove much of the sex and the profanity? A rather ordinary fantasy novel is the answer. There’s not much here that we haven’t read before and better. If you can stand gay sex, repetitive dialogue, graphic violence and the f-word, go ahead, it’s a decent light read. Otherwise, you won’t be missing anything.
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