Finally finished The Steel Remains yesterday and I have to say, the last third of the book was much better than I anticipated. It was a slog getting through the middle parts of the book. There seemed to be too much alien sci-fi elements to the story, and instead of flowing naturally the book was bogged down in explanation and telling. The story was the most entertaining when the people were just being people.
I grew to enjoy the characters the further the story went, Ringil went from insufferable, whiny baby to a more rounded character. I am not sure whether the reader is supposed to like him or not, kind of seems like he is the typical flawed main character that tries to do the right thing but everything he does seems to either turn out to be wrong or he is forced to do something wrong. But of course no one really knows that he secretly has high morals because he hides it through a grizzled exterior and disdain for authority. I mean it’s not exactly an original model for a character, read five fantasy books and that personality model will appear in three of them. The unique twist of The Steel Remains is that Ringil is gay. Here is the struggle for me, while I am fully a fan of steering away from the straight white male protagonist, I feel like Morgan uses Ringil’s sexuality as a crutch for not fully developing a character. Like we should accept poor character development because we should be shocked and applaud Morgan because the main character is gay.
This is kind of highlighted through the other two POV characters. Archeth is from an ancient race of advanced people called the Kiriath that are technologically advanced and create engineering marvels, but she is also black. We know she is black because in every single interaction she has, someone comments on that fact, just as every interaction Ringil has someone comments on his sexuality. Just seems like continuisly mentioning these two things is forcing us to be like “OMG so progressive” when I think that it actually has the opposite effect. The third POV character is your typical barbarian, super warrior type who, spoiler alert, actually has a mind underneath his masculine exterior. See where I am going with this? Only time that kind of character ever really came off as different to me is in Karsa Orlong’s case. Maybe because Erickson had 9 million pages to make the character unique.
Now to the story itself. The original plot seemed to center around Ringil saving his cousin from slavery. That becomes an afterthought when Ringil gets captured by an alien race known as the Dwenda. Some of the Dwenda are planning to reconquer their planet after being expelled by a combination of humans and Kiriath thousands of years ago. The preliminary force of the Dwenda sent are brutal and have magic that allows them to travel between worlds. Ringil encounters Seethlaw and the Dwenda captures him, though Ringil inundates himself in the Dwenda gang by becoming Seethlaws’ lover. Through this we are shown some of Dwenda society, and also find out that Ringil is probably some type of magical being as well.
That whole middle part where Seethlaw has Ringil is borrrrrring as shit. It was at that point I decided that I was not going to read the next book in the trilogy. Fortunately the story redeems itself. The big battle at the end is not actually a big battle, more like a minor skirmish that takes place when the three POV characters meet up in some backwater town in a marsh close to where the Dwenda have set up shop. They win of course. Ringil kills Seethlaw of course.
So what about this book made me decide that I am going to finish the trilogy? Obviously from everything above this paragraph it seems like I didn’t enjoy the book, but I did. There is nothing wrong with sticking to the familiar when it comes to fantasy, there are many books that have elements of this kind of stuff, and I have really enjoyed them. Morgan does an excellent job with the combat, it is easy to follow without being simple, the action is well-thought out and logical, and he clearly did his research on fighting techniques. I appreciated the rather graphic and realistic portrayals of the darker elements of life, meaning violence, sex, and the horrors of misuse of power. The story itself was predictable, but there were a few twists that added to it. Ringil probably turning into a Dwenda was cool, as well as the prophecy that may or may not state he is going to be the dark lord. I think I would like to see that. My favorite parts of the book are the interactions of the emperor. I would really like to see more of his struggle to run the empire. His conversations with Archeth were some of the more entertaining parts of the story. While I am not frothing at the mouth with anticipation to read The Cold Commands, I am looking forward to it. So stay tuned for my initial thoughts on it.
Final Notes: That was a way more serious review than I normally give. Also Steph and Seth guarding each other is teetering on ridiculous. How can these coaches really put two brothers on each other, like this is a serious game that is some shit you do during the regular season. Also what is the point of the lizard people?