Friday, June 20, 2014

The Cold Commands

Richard K. Morgan
Completed 6/18/2014, Reviewed 6/18/2014
3 stars

Second-book-of-a-trilogy slump.  That was my take of Morgan’s second installment in his “Land Fit for Heroes” trilogy.  It continues the exploits of Ringil, Egan, and Archeth.  The first novel, “The Steel Remains”, spent a lot of time on world-building, back story, and character development, but it still had a plot within itself.  “Cold” lacks much real direction.  Its sole purpose seems to be to set you up for the forthcoming third book in the trilogy.  That left me as cold as its title.

The book suffers from lack of strong central plot.  Instead it gives you three overwrought story lines that don’t feel like like they’ll ever reach a denouement.  Instead you’re left immersed in lots of mood and lots of setup for the third book.  It gives you more insight into the three main characters.  Ringil has become an anti-slavery terrorist.  He attacks a large slave caravan, killing many of the overseer and freeing the slaves.  This of course makes him a marked man, forcing him to go into hiding.  Egan is more or less working security for Archeth.  Of course, he’s still butting heads with authority, this time with the forces of the Citadel, the center of the powerful religious movement that is close to dominating the society.  Archeth, still the Emperor’s right hand, investigates a report that the Ilwrack Changeling is staging a return to destroy humanity, and deliver the earth back into the hands of the evil Aldrain race. 

While all this seems exciting, the arc of each story line is incredibly long.  The book’s chapter order follows the same basic format of the first: Ringil, Egan, Ringil, Archeth, repeat.  While this created a strong episodic feel to the first book, it made this plot feel interrupted and detached.  Everything felt moody and meandering rather than building tension.  Granted, the characters are moody.  They’re anti-heroes, after all.  But the story could still be tighter.  I tried to read this book more quickly than the first, just to have a better sense of continuity for the three story lines.

The book did finally come together in the end.  It was very exciting.  The build-up simply took too long.  I was saddened by it because I still like the characters and where the story’s going.  I like Morgan’s prose.  And when I really concentrated on the parts where nothing felt like it was moving forward, I was able to appreciate his prose. 

Perhaps part of my disappointment with this book lies in the fact that I read and loved the first book just a month ago, and I read Gene Wolfe’s classic “Book of the New Sun” fantasy series starter “The Shadow of the Torturer” right before this.  Wolfe’s book is the first of a tetralogy, uses a lot of mood, and very obviously sets you up for the next book.  But Wolfe accomplished it with much more flair and in about a third less time.  I’m beginning to think I need to vary my reading between Fantasy and SF a little more to cleanse my palette between books of the same genre, maybe throw in some horror and contemp lit as well.

I’m still really looking forward to the third book which is coming out this October, despite reportedly being half again as long as this one.  And I’d plan to read some of his SF later this year.  I like Morgan’s prose, I like our three anti-heros, and I like the fantasy universe he created.  I’m hoping that I’ll go into it with a little more trepidation and perhaps lower expectations, and find it to have been a good series, rather than a first-book-wonder.  I give this book 3 stars with strong hopes for the trilogy’s completion.

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