Richard K. Morgan is a British fantasy/sci-fi author known for his succesful dystopian cyberpunk-type novels. In "The Steel Remains", he has made a first successful foray into fantasy, while maintaining the usual 'noir' elements and the political cynicism of his works. The result is a highly readable, exciting and compelling work. It is in particular interesting because he takes, as fantasy after all to some degree inevitably requires, a number of clichés from the genre; but he manages to subvert them quite effectively. The reader often recognizes certain elements in the book as typical fantasy tropes (the nomadic barbarians, the Imperial City, the elf-type ethereal creatures, etc.), but the function they have in the story is almost always vastly different from the usual approach, and in this rests Morgan's cleverness. Moreover, despite the young and often educated readership of fantasy books, it is still very uncommon to have a gay protagonist or prominent homosexual themes in a novel. At least, such novels rarely go on to become successful in the mainstream as well.
"The Steel Remains" however manages to do this and in a way that in turn avoids the clichés and tropes of the genre of 'gay fiction', being much darker and much less gratifying than the usual 'gay novel' is. Nonetheless, it is to be expected that the petty, the unimaginative, the closed-minded and the neurotic would make a big deal out of the theme itself playing any role at all in what is mainly a swordfighting book, despite the prevalence of homosexuality and homoerotic elements in real life (especially in virtually all-male settings like armies). But any straight person who prejudges the book as uninteresting for this reason is depriving himself as much as if a gay person were to refuse to read "Romeo and Juliet" because it has straight themes.
Since the book is to be the first of a trilogy, the exact world in which it plays and the setting is not explained much, and the reader has to discover the rules of the world mainly on the go. This keeps the book fast-paced. The plot itself is easily enough explained: it traces the actions and interactions of the three main characters, a barbarian chieftain, a cynical war hero shunned for his sexuality, and a female warrior-vizier to the Emperor who is a last descendant of an ancient race. All are, as the book's cover says, "damaged veterans of the war against the Lizard Folk". Despite the silliness of this concept itself, the actual psychology is worked out very carefully and in great detail in their 'careers' since the last battle of that war, so that the book is already very far underway when the plot target eventually becomes visible. It turns out a strange power seems poised to invade the world from an unseen dimension, and through a great number of plot twists and turns, these three must reunite to stop them. It is difficult to say more without spoiling it, but suffice to say that despite the somewhat clichéd impression such a description might give, it is really quite refreshing, at least for a genre flooded with second-rate imitations and epigonism.
The book is fairly heavy on violence and sex, so this has to appeal to you to some degree for it to be worth reading - but then again, all evidence seems to show that most people do in fact enjoy this. Morgan's writing is fast, to the point, and believable, and his characters compelling. Fans experienced in reading fantasy will enjoy the noir take on the tropes, which (as is to be expected) suggest the atmosphere of the better kind of cyberpunk sci-fi. People interested for whatever reason in gay themes or at least some psychological real-world realism and originality of that kind inserted into a typical fantasy world will also do well to read this book.