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The Steel Remains    by Richard K. Morgan order for
Steel Remains
by Richard K. Morgan
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2010 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though Richard K. Morgan (who also writes excellent SF, in particular his Takeshi Kovacs series that began with Altered Carbon) credits influences of Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner and Poul Anderson in his new fantasy series - and those influences are apparent - The Steel Remains brought to my mind first and foremost David Gemmell's works, riddled as they are with truly heroic antiheroes, just like Morgan's faggot warrior Ringil 'Gil' Eskiath.

The story begins - after a brief graveyard encounter with corpsemites - when Gil's aristocratic mother Ishil seeks him out in the border-town settlement to which he's retreated after leading humanity's last stand against the Scaled Folk at Gallows Gap. Ishil asks him to rescue his cousin Sherin from slavery. Gil and his Kiriath sword Ravensfriend return to 'the brawling, bargaining human sprawl of Trelayne ... the heated womb of his youth' with her. There, a fortune-teller warns him that 'A dark lord will rise, his coming is in the wind off the marsh.'

After being introduced to Gil, readers meet two of his old comrades-in-arms (who will, of course, eventually reunite with him). Egar the Dragonbane lives well as a Majak clanmaster and is known throughout the steppes for his womanizing. A god intervenes to save Egar's life and sends him to save a 'face from the past'. Half Kiriath Archeth (left behind when the her full-blooded kin departed this world) works directly for Emperor Jhiral, and is sent to investigate an arcane attack on a garrisoned port - they find a sole survivor.

When Gil makes enquiries of his underworld ex-lover Grace-of-Heaven, he learns of a legendary dwenda (a powerful, sorcerous and very dangerous Aldrain, one of the Vanishing Folk, 'beautiful beyond words' and with 'access to realms beyond human reach') in the slum area and slaver stronghold of Etterkal. Though that news doesn't stop his search for his enslaved cousin, the dwenda does, taking Gil with him into the places between (parallel worlds of possibilities) and becoming his lover.

Though Seethlaw (the dwenda) is indeed beautiful beyond words, Gil doesn't lose sight of his mission, especially after learning that the Aldrain intend to incite another war amongst humans. After encountering old battle companions as he flees pursuit, Gil remembers that he's a leader. He makes another last stand against high odds - and when his inspiring speech ends with 'We stop them here!', an old friend seconds, 'I'm with the faggot'.

Though quite a departure from Morgan's award winning SF novels, The Steel Remains is excellent dark fantasy and a gripping read. I highly recommend it to fans of David Gemmell and of George R. R. Martin. To whet readers' appetites for what's next, an excerpt from the second episode, The Cold Commands, is included with this one. I, for one, can't wait.

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