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on January 25, 2009
Like another reviewer, I wasn't gonna wait until this book made its debut in the U.S. I, too, ordered a copy from the U.K. Money well spent!
So, below is my original review.

Y'know I wasn't going to bother. But the only other review for this book (the paperback version, that is) seems to be unduly distressed about the homosexuality of one of the characters. That's sorta like watching "Titanic" and complaining about Leonardo DiCaprio's tuxedo -- you're missing the point.

The Steel Remains is a gut-wrenching look at an archetypical sword & sorcery novel. Swordfights? Yep. Sorcery? Yup. But it's not clean. It's not Disney. Richard Morgan shows us how horrible such a world would really be. His discriptions of violence are deeply disturbing; they unflinchingly portray what happens when a swordblade strikes a person. His "heroes" aren't heroes at all, they're simply survivors (who often survived because they were lethally competent killers). I find this oddly refreshing. So many other fantasy authors seem to forget how awful a world dominated by swordsmen would be. Particularly if you, yourself, were an unarmed shopkeeper, peasant, or slave. The Steel Remains is a Dragonlance novel for grown-ups.

Having said all that, I STRONGLY recommend this book. It's not for everyone, granted, but it's an excellent tale with plenty of action. And sex. And violence. It follows the tales of 3 former comrades who find themselves together again, fighting a semi-mystical enemy bent on invasion and conquest. Rather than give any of the plot away, I'll simply say, Richard Morgan has written another winner. I look forward to his next novel, in whatever genre.
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on November 21, 2008
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should start off this review by admitting that:

A.) I'm a big fan of Richard K. Morgan's work. I devoured the Takeshi Kovacs books. I really enjoyed Market Forces. Hell, I even liked Thirteen. As a friend of mine says, Mr. Morgan should be: "chained to his desk and forced to write novels for me." A sentiment I wholly agree with.

Which leads me to my second admission...

B.) I was so excited for this book, Mr. Morgan's fabled, long rumored departure from sci-fi and his first foray into noir-ish fantasy, that I ordered the book from England. It doesn't come out here in America until January or something like that and quite frankly, that was too long for me. I couldn't wait. So, I actually ordered a fantasy book "special" from overseas...

So bare those things in mind as you read on...

In a nutshell, my review of The Steel Remains goes like this: Fantastic. Great. Very, very good. I really enjoyed it and I excitedly await the second... which I will probably order from England.

So it goes like this:

Ringil Angeleyes is a once storied Hero-of-Legend living off his reputation at the edge of the World. Egar Dragonbane once rode a Dragon down to its fiery death and now wallows in a life of boredom amongst his goat herding, steppe wandering, superstitious hick kin. Archeth Indamaninarmal is the last of her kind, a half breed left behind by her Father's people and now serving an Empire she no longer believes in and an Emperor barely worth his crown. These three former friends and companions, heroes and veterans of the war with the Scaled folk that nearly destroyed humanity, now find themselves on a path towards a new war, a war against a darker evil, a more powerful and more dangerous foe than the Lizards, and all with a World that none of them is even sure is worth saving anymore hanging in the balance.

So the main complaint I've seen, is the one from people who happily land with both feet on the "seen it before" rant, as if there is such a creature as a wholly original tale, ESPECIALLY where such a tired and played out genre as fantasy is concerned. First off, this book isn't a traditional fantasy story, so from the start, any comparisons are ridiculous. This is a far flung future world, a world so far ahead, that the moon is gone (having apparently been shattered at some point lost to history), technology and society has regressed (possibly due to the same cataclysm that befell the moon) and so much time has passed since that no one even remembers the world as it used to be. The setting alone precludes the inclusion of those tired and oh-so familiar fantasy tropes in the usual ways and their re-appliance in this new setting automatically makes them seem new again. Which is really the point, isn't it? To fall back on the old cliché: There's nothing new under the sun. The trick, then, becomes to redress the old as new.

And that's what Mr. Morgan does.

The classic fantasy bits here have been taken and twisted and painted with shadows. They are recognizable in order to allow the reader to slip into this new world somewhat easily and that very same familiarity makes the other odd occurrences, the incongruities included, seem to stand out and all the more strangely and noteworthy as a result.

So are there things you will recognize? Familiar Archetypes? Recognizable themes? Common twists and turns? Yes, at times. Guess what else? Morgan also uses gravity to keep his characters from flying off into space, someone call the literary police!

To be honest, part of this reaction is Morgan's fault. He has stated that it was his intention to do something new and different in the tired world of fantasy and to my mind, he has, but when you make that kind of statement, certain... people... quickly and firmly set their stance as biased and ready judge, carefully cataloging and comparing every nuance and bit against their pathetically encyclopedic knowledge of the poor limping parade of garbage that has come before just so they can rush out and highlight every last bit for the rest of us and then... I don't know, they get a badge or a plaque or something...

What you will find, should you buy this book (and you should) is a strange and dark and fantastic trip through a World that has just recently won their great climatic battle against a dangerous, otherworldly evil. They have saved their World. The War of their Age has been fought and won and Evil has been beaten and cast back into the seas from whence it came. Huzzah! ...And then everyone turned on each other. Alliances crumbled and petty squabbles over the lines on the maps soaked the ground with the blood of warriors who were, until just recently, friends and stalwart companions. It's a world were ignorance and religious driven hatred and paranoia rule the day and the moment where good stood together and the world could have almost been something great is now long gone. And no one knows this better than the War's heroes. They drink and wallow and wander and wonder if it was all worth it. Their golden moment of glory has given way to the long dark of smoky bars and regret tinged ghosts. But despite all this, our trio of heroes are just that, heroes and when the clarion call of trumpets sound them back to battle, they come, no matter how small and tinny those trumpets may be. In the end they stand together in the dark to fight the first skirmishes in a coming battle against an ancient evil newly awoken...

What more could you want then that?

The second complaint I've heard is over the "gayness" of two of the characters. Yawn. Whatever. Its there. So what? Morgan's books have always leaned graphically toward sex. If this puts you off, then know that this book is no different than the others.

The third complaint I've read is that "nothing happens". That's just... completely untrue, completely, but I can see where certain... people... might complain of that, being that they like things that `splode and only things that `splode, well, sorry, what can I tell? At times, in this book, Mr. Morgan does spend some time developing his characters, their situations and the world around them. There is some set up required. This is the first book in a trilogy and as any real fan familiar with sci-fi/fantasy will tell you, that means there's two more books coming and as such, one could expect that there is more story on the way and that perhaps... PERHAPS... Morgan is keeping the big, big battles for later... Maybe...

Anyway, to make a long story short. I loved this world and its melancholy gray characters moving through their shadowed landscape. I loved the "real" characters, the three dimensional characters and their normal speech patterns and thoughts thrown into the mix with the classic tropes and trappings of monsters and magics and myths. I loved the hints of mysterious and long forgotten high technology and the broken down remnants that remain. I loved the murk and the muck and the mud. I loved the hollowness of the Empire's rhetoric and the sadness and disappointment the heroes felt in its wake. And I loved them returning to battle again, because in the end, they can do no less.

My recommendation: Buy it.
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The Steel Remains, by Richard Morgan, is a dark, gritty, and in some places obscene fantasy that will not be to everyone's liking. So let's get the surface material out of the way--if you don't like your books laced with a heaping amount of f-bombs, graphic sex (hetero and homosexual), and graphic violence, Steel is not for you. In the slightest. Run. Run as far as you can.

And if you can live with the swearing, sex, and violence? In that case, Steel will mostly entertain, though it isn't a standout fantasy, nor does it I think rise to the level of Morgan's sci-fi stories involving Takeshi Kovacs, his best work to date.

The story takes place a few years after a devastating war that saw various human groups ally with a race with greater technology (the Kiriath) against a reptilian race--The Scaled Folk. The Kiriath abandoned this world soon after the barely successful war to head home (where home resides for both the Kiriath and the Scaled Folk is explained later). Meanwhile, the humans try to pick up the pieces.

The book follows three characters--Ringil Eskiath, Archeth, and Egar Dragonbane, all of whom fought together in the war then went their separate ways. Ringil grew up highborn and homosexual in a city where homosexuality is punishable by death (for those not so high-born). Despised by the city dwellers and his own father, Ringil nonetheless fought for the city against the Scaled Folk and ended up a hero. Rather than return home, he stays in the hinterlands wasting away. Archeth, a half-breed Kiriath who wouldn't survive the journey home due to her human half, was left behind as an advisor to the Emperor of Yhelteth, though as religious fundamentalism rises in the empire her position becomes less and less secure. Egar is the only one of the three to return home, though as clan chief he does little but rue that decision.

Each has a precipitating event that will cause them to leave their current miserable lives. Ringil seeks a cousin sold into slavery. Archeth, forced to flee the capital after killing a priest, seeks whomever it was that sacked one of the Empire's ports--leaving behind devastation unseen since the Scaled Folk. And Egar's clan gods seem to have come to life with at least one wanting him dead. It give nothing away to say the three characters and their stories eventually merge as they discover a vast threat to their land/world looming, possibly in the form of the Dwenda--a mythic/barely-believed-in race and ancient foe of the Kiriath.

Character is one of Morgan's strong suits in his sci-fi, and the same mostly holds true here. Ringil and Archeth especially are complex characters and much is made of their displacement--Ringil as the avowed homosexual and Archeth as the half-breed of a mythic race. Sometimes Morgan makes a bit too much of it, as the reader gets the point relatively quickly, but it's a minor problem. Egar too is out of place--a book-loving seeker of intelligent conversation in a backwards setting, but he's given short shrift in comparison to the other two. Also, and this may be why he gets short shrift, he never truly felt in-place there. In other words, his character felt the most contrived, as if Morgan built Egar's setting and situation up because he needed a displaced, bitter character, rather than the character being displaced and bitter due to his situation. Ringil and Archeth feel much more natural as characters.

Another small problem is there is a bit of a similarity to the narrative voice in all three. While I do think there's a good reason for it--all three are veterans of a terrible war having difficulty settling into the peace--more differentiation would have helped. That said, it should also be mentioned that this post-war prism is one of the more original aspects of the book and one of its strongest as well.

The setting/world-building is variable. At times we get incredible detail, at others things seems a bit blurry or under construction still. This is true both of the physical setting and the political/historical. This does improve toward the end.

All three plot lines are pretty straightforward though Morgan seems to open up the imagination more toward the end, where we also see some sci-fi elements begin to creep in (if one cares about genre labeling--the book itself seems a hybrid--along the lines of Arthur C. Clarke's famous line about any far-flung technology will seem like magic to those who don't understand it). The ending itself is a bit abrupt, though it has some nice twists. There were some plot elements that I thought didn't gel as concretely as they needed to. One is the sexual relationship between Ringil and a Dwenda--it just never felt like a natural outgrowth of anything, similar to Egar's role, it felt contrived. And the Dwenda storyline in general I felt needed some fleshing out, some slowing down.

Some strong characterization, an interesting blending of science fiction, good flashes of humor, some serious themes, the post-war setting and use of recent veterans, a nearly resolved ending with an intriguing look forward: all of these go in the plus column and make The Steel Remains well worth a read. Some contrived characterization and plot elements and some lack of clarity in a few areas hold it back from being a top-notch book. Happily recommended.
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on November 24, 2011
After weeks of trying to read this through and not being keen on doing it, I had to give up.

First let us make something VERY clear: it is NOT because of the book's homosexual content (being gay myself, that would be ludicrous).

This is my first book by Mr Morgan, I have never read the SF for which he seems to be famous and esteemed.
There are pages of undisputable power where every word has meaning, every turn of phrase lures you deeper. One of these pages is that describing the rape suffered by the main character, not a light moment for sure and yet it feels necessary (the page, not the rape), neatly executed and once again powerful. In these pages the border between genre fiction and fine literature blurs to become indistinct.

Problem is that in between these powerful moments the plot drags onwards, the characters fail to interest, convince, involve me. It all seems very clunky and cumbersome, even if the quality of the writing remains high throughout.

Most of the negative reviews here seem to focus on the sexual content which, for me, was a non issue. I should like to enlist less prudish readers to help me pinpoint what exactly is wrong in this novel.
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on February 12, 2009
Richard Morgan is an extraordinary writer whose prose flows off the page and wraps you up in the scenes. His prior science fiction works, as noted by others and my prior reviews, are classics. Steel Remains carries over his talent into the Chainmail and Broadswords category. The initial imagery and creatures are reminiscent of Michael Shea's work "acrawl with grotesqueries" but the characters are distinctly Morgan's own.

When Mr. Morgan stated that he wanted to do "something different" however, you need to understand that he is doing something truly different and challenging many preconceptions about the genre. Other reviewers have pointed out that two of the three main characters are openly and not-so-openly gay. All of the normal anti-gay sentiments are presented in many variations from the differing factions in the setting, but the reader needs to be prepared for lurid sex scenes of a homosexual nature. This is certainly different and will throw most casual readers of the genre for a loop. Most read the genre for he-man derring-do, not for male-on-male action. Mind you, there is a strong potential in later books, should there be any, for equally lurid female-on-female action, which might prove a balm for some aggrieved readers, and there is one character who carries on a frankly hetero relationship with a sixteen year old, but one absolutely must have an open mind to the author's intentions - to set certain conventions on their head, so to speak, and test the limits of his readers.

For those who can comprehend and deal with that challenge, there is a rich reward in terms of storyline and intrigue. This is a stronger work than Thirteen, more compact and faster paced. The action is almost nonstop and the scenes of combat and conflict are superb. Although I think it would have been fascinating to be a bug on the wall of the room in which Mr. Morgan discussed the problematic aspects of this work with his editors and publisher, the final result is eminently readable and an excellent sword-and-sorcery tale.
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on November 2, 2010
Having never read anything from Richard Morgan before, I didn't know what to expect. After a relatively slow start with some character introduction, the plot just started rolling until it reached the climax and splattered against all moral codes known to me with much more blood and gore than I had been expecting, leaving me a bit disoriented but glad that I had made the effort (and survived right to the end.) I'm glad I'm not religious or homophobic because if I were, this book might have been a bit harder to swallow.

The main characters are all very no-nonsense, making-our-own-rules-and-kicking-anyone's-face-in-who-gets-on-our-nerves type of characters who, despite all the brutaly they have seen and been part of, still retain their own sense on right and wrong, and are able to value life. The plot is interesting, but screams of the sequel(s) to be, and that's why it's a bit more difficult to give it a loud, shoulder-clapping A+ straight away. But I can honestly say that if anything, it's not boring, pretentious or well trod upon, and very much worth a read. Highly recommended!
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on June 20, 2010
The novel has almost everything. Swords & Sorcery, two or three kinds of non-humans, time manipulation, alternate dimensions, extreme sex and battles. The thing which makes all the Morgan novels stand out from the usual books, however, is the intense, searing detail that make you cringe and grit your teeth. You feel the pain and anger, the revulsion and remorse more than is comfortable and you feel as if you have come through some kind of struggle when you finish the book. Definitely not for everybody.
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on January 12, 2014
Overall, the book just felt too negative. All the leads hate the society/world they're in. Interpersonal relationships are all based on insulting or otherwise being mean to one another. The sex was fine, but when none of it has positive or deep emotions attached to it, it's just depressing after a while. Despite the diversity of the main characters, they too often talk and think the same way. All of them are despairing, all injured by the past, and all fed up with the immoral hypocrisy of those around them. Along these lines, I have no problem with profanity, but it is troublesome when everyone in this story enjoys dropping the f-bomb, frequently. When everyone talks the same, that is a failure of characterization, and we quickly realize that it's not the characters who rely on cussing for effect, it's the author.

All that negativity has the unfortunate drawback of me not caring about these people and the world they are trying to save. After all, what is it that they want to save? The slave-trading swamp city? The other slave trading city, that is run by religious zealots and a decadent emperor? The dumpy rural town? What person in this amoral world is worthy of saving? As seen through our heroes' eyes, this world is nothing but pain, monsters, idiots, and garbage. Where's the Hobbiton that deserves saving? Where's the beautiful home, the loving wife, the caring father, the innocent child? Not in this book. If this is the only kind of land fit for heroes, then heroes everywhere need to take up a new occupation.

This is all too bad, because I otherwise like many aspects of this book. The melding of fantasy and scifi is intriguing. It's nice to see not one but two homosexual main characters. The action scenes were exciting. But the dreary emotions underlying it all are too much for me to keep on with the series.
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on May 12, 2015
I was very disappointed with this book. I have been a big fan of Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs sci-fi novels, and was hoping to be similarly pleased with this novel. The protagonist characters all seemed very similar, and often it was difficult to distinguish between their dialog (which was kind of cringe-worthy at times). It was easy to forget which character you were following, until you came upon their name again. They're all miserable bad-asses with hearts of gold and sex addictions. They have pasts with one another, but don't even meet up until the last 25% of the book (obviously this was written to be a series from the beginning), and even then there is no internal conflict with what ought to be the most interesting characters in the story. All the conflict is psychological, or external. That shouldn't be the case with old war buddies from such different backgrounds, and with such different motivations. Sadly, I just never really got invested in these characters, and it made it difficult to get through 400 pages of it when compared to some of Morgan's previous works.

At first, I found the notion of an openly homosexual protagonist in this type of setting as interesting. Especially since it didn't follow the foppish, emasculating stereotypes that fantasy likes to follow sometimes. Gil is a gay Conan. That's interesting. But Morgan beats you over the head with his sexuality when he could have made it all much more fluid and put it in the background.

World building and action scenes are fantastic, but Morgan has always seemed really good at that part. It doesn't really make up for everything else, though. The book is not completely awful. I enjoyed initially getting to know all the characters, they just weren't distinct enough to keep my interest as they developed, and their dialog seemed too modern and off-putting for fantasy. It does seem like Morgan is trying to build an R.R. Martin type of epic fantasy world, here, but hasn't really honed the third person voice for it. I likely will not be reading the rest of this series.
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on December 17, 2008
Y'know I wasn't going to bother. But the only other review for this book seems to be unduly distressed about the homosexuality of one of the characters. That's sorta like watching "Titanic" and complaining about Leonardo DiCaprio's tuxedo -- you're missing the point.
The Steel Remains is a gut-wrenching look at an archetypical sword & sorcery novel. Swordfights? Yep. Sorcery? Yup. But it's not clean. It's not Disney. Richard Morgan shows us how horrible such a world would really be. His discriptions of violence are deeply disturbing; they unflinchingly portray what happens when a swordblade strikes a person. His "heroes" aren't heroes at all, they're simply survivors (who often survived because they were lethally competent killers). I find this oddly refreshing. So many other fantasy authors seem to forget how awful a world dominated by swordsmen would be. Particularly if you, yourself, were an unarmed shopkeeper, peasent, or slave. The Steel Remains is a Dragonlance novel for grown-ups.
Having said all that, I STRONGLY recommend this book. It's not for everyone, granted, but it's an excellent tale with plenty of action. And sex. And violence. It follows the tales of 3 former comrades who find themselves together again, fighting a semi-mystical enemy bent on invasion and conquest. Rather than give any of the plot away, I'll simply say, Richard Morgan has written another winner. I look forward to his next novel, in whatever genre.
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