Monday, March 26, 2012

Book review: "The Cold Commands" by Richard Morgan

I have read "The Steel Remains", first in "A Land fit for Heroes" by Richard Morgan almost a year ago and I liked the book very much. My only objection was ending, which didn't make much impact nor was epic as expected from building up. I know this sounds conflicting, because ending is what usually make the biggest impression, but this just wasn't such a book. It had a great characters and world-building, was very gritty and violent and I liked it because of that. If its story wasn't epic enough, it was nevertheless a great enjoyment to read through it.

While I was buying its sequel, "The Cold Commands" (I bought a Kindle edition), I encountered some poor reviews of it, which made me think I made a bad investment. But these reviews, with my experience from first book, actually made this book better for me, because I knew not to expect an epic fantasy.

I am not sure that this book has a real, overall plot. Instead, we follow our three main characters, Ringil, Archet and Egar, in another set of adventures that in the end make them gather once again. Since last book, Ringil Eskiath, a League noble-man, war hero and exiled homosexual, has set himself to self-proclaimed war against slavery. But after he angers enough people, he will be forced to flee and abandon his efforts. Egar Dragon, a Majak barbarian with taste for pleasures of the city has decided to abandon his steppes and once again enjoy in decadence of Imperial City of Yhelteth. There he "acts" as bodyguard of lady kir-Archet Indamaninarmal (wrote it properly in only two attempts), but actually does much and grows bored. Archet herself, as senior adviser of Yhelteth Empereor and last Kiriath on this world, has gotten a mission to wait for some kind of messenger. The meandering stream of events will lead these threes friend together and they will once again be forced to confront the menace from last book, the dwenda.

OK, I know this "sounds" like a plot, but trust me, it is not in real sense of the word. "The Cold Commands" serves as a classical transitional book, from introductory and world-building first one, to closing third one. So, instead on plot, it focuses on characters and world-building, with fascinating results. We learn new information, about now finished war against lizards, about dragons, dwenda, Kiriath, Grey Places, and so on. I really like how Morgan made this sound like some strange mix of SF and fantasy, with references like "The cat is nor dead or alive", and with the concept of Helmsmen. He also succeeded with making Grey Places a very confusing and intriguing place.

Characters are also on high level. Ringil is this time described as bad-ass anti-hero ("Ringil Eskiath. Faggot dragonslayer."). If you like to read about tough guys spitting in the face of the world and authority, this is you book - Rambo (in first part) looks like a kitten compared to him. But you have to give him the credit; he doesn't do it without any reason or purely out of spite (although spite does make large portion of it), but because loyalty and his own sense of honor. Egar is done much better than in last book. His plot-line unfortunately doesn't hold much meaning, but he is a very fun and intense character to read about. Archet felt very subdued throughout whole book and not as competent as she was described previously, but I presume that forcing yourself off from very addictive drug makes you like that. Well, there is another reason for her anxiety, and I must admit that I didn't understand it until the very end.

Again, I have an objection regarding the ending. This time, I found it somewhat confusing and I didn't get it completely how Ringil did what he did. But this is only a small objection, and I think that a reread would help me with understanding. Not a real complaint, but more of an observation - don't expect some artistic writing and language. This book is very down-to-earth and gritty.

Well, since I am mentioning grittiness, I have to warn you: this is one of the most violent and gritty books I have ever read. Close description of gang-rape, sex, detailed memories of very war, very bloody and violent description of fighting... Also, if you have something against scenes of gay and lesbian sex, this is not a book for you.

But, I you like action-packed books about ass-kicking anti-heroes, with really clever world-building and gritty characters, then "The Cold Commands" IS a book for you. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the sequel and last book in trilogy.

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