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More of a Good First Chapter than a Novel
on 3 August 2009
I had a hard time deciding whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars. I eventually elected to give it three, because much as I loved Ringil who is a deserving five-star character, the story just wasn't enough to give it the final push to 4 stars.
Graphic sex scenes and extended combat descriptions do not put me off a book, unless badly written, and Richard Morgan is an experienced writer who is well able to handle these with aplomb. But I'm a girl who likes a beginning, a middle and a satisfactory ending in books, though I don't much mind in what order they occur as long as they are present. So much of The Steel Remains gave the impression that this is an epilogue, and the real story took place ten years before. Which would be an interesting plot device, were the previous story ever explained, but the "epilogue plot" itself struggles to demonstrate to the reader why this is more significant, and deserving of a book, than "what happened at Gallows Gap", and struggles to maintain the tension necessary to stimulate interest in the direction of the story - the "what happens next?" factor. There's plenty of scope to fill in the gaps in later novels though, so I can see that this is a good grounding for further books, but as a novel in its own right this just isn't strong enough.
Another reviewer has commented on the implausibility of the three lead characters meeting up at the end of the book, and I fear I have to agree - it's not really a likely coincidence, and jars slightly.
Now for the really really positive bit: Ringil. He really is the star of the show. Being out and proud, right from page 1, does not make him any less macho - but in a sense gives depth to his mental toughness, as he is of a society which does not tolerate homosexuality, and his relationships with family are tainted by their dismay at his unrepentant man-loving ways (his being an unrepentant cut-throat bastard seems to trouble them much less). The other two seminal characters are well drawn, of course, but departing from Ringil's thread in the plot line always felt a little flat - he is so lively and wickedly entertaining a character I felt disappointed each time the book departing from his storyline.
But I have great hopes for Richard Morgan's foray into fantasy. I confess, I didn't read his sci-fi works until after The Steel Remains, but seeing what he has done with Takeshi Kovacs (a character with no definite physical appearance, and no fixed setting in time or place to ground him) I have ridiculously high hopes for more. Characterisation is definitely Morgan's strong point; the three leads stand out as almost shockingly three-dimensional, larger-than-life people in a shadowy world and rather vague story.
It's a bit of a conundrum for me - it's the first time I've read a book which was a pretty average and unsatisfying read, but desperately wanted more!