(2008) Richard Morgan, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 345pp, ISBN 978-0-575-07792-8
Morgan is apparently known and well-regarded for his sf novels (of which there are five), but this is his first attempt at fantasy. What we have are three main characters: Ringil, Archeth and Egar, who are each war veterans and have known each other in the past. This certainly makes a pleasant change from all those teenagers so many fantasies rely upon. These are well-developed characters who have seen and done it all, with the subsequent disillusionment and cynicism one would expect.
For most of the book the three characters are quite separate and we move between them, chapter by chapter, getting life stories and seeing what their lives have become since the war. Ringil is tasked by his mother to track down a relative, sold into slavery, and this pushes him back to places and people from his past. In the process he and, to some extent, the other two become aware of a new, more terrifying enemy and the potential for another, more horrendous, war. Ringil and Archeth are, respectively, gay male and lesbian. This struck me as rather refreshing initially and did make me realise how universally heterosexual both sf and fantasy tend to be. However, Ringil's character is particularly full-on, and hardly a page goes by without him being abused for his preferences, which seemed a bit over the top. Call me an old prude, but I found the main sex scene to be overlong and rather more intimately detailed than I cared for, or truly felt was necessary. In my defense, I would have felt the same way about a similarly detailed heterosexual sex scene.
Morgan credits Michael Moorcock's 'Eternal Champions' as one of the inspirations, and I thought he had the same tendency as Moorcock to over-do descriptions; certainly not a minimalist in the adjective department! I felt this did rather affect the pace and flow of the story, sometimes causing interruptions in both dialogue and action. This seemed to be due to the sheer volume of backstory to be conveyed in the early stages. The characterisation is very good; these are real, plausible people who piss, shit and fuck. The depth and scope of the backstory feels very detailed. As mentioned, Morgan is well-regarded for his writing, particularly when it comes to violence, and that was certainly the case in this book; it was not gratuitous, but was definitely realistic. In fact, that holds true for the novel as a whole... It is all very believable. A good solid read for grown-ups.
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