Friday, December 05, 2014

"A Land Fit For Heroes" - Richard Morgan

From the Kirkus Review of the final part of the trilogy, The Dark Defiles:
"Homosexuality is anathema in the world where swordsman Ringil Eskiath, a weary, gay, middle-aged war hero, lives and fights. With his friends Archeth, last of the immortal Kiriath race, and Egar the Dragonbane, he sets off to find the Illwrack Changeling, supposedly the evil-sorcerer scion of a powerful race, the dwenda  or Aldrain, that once ruled the world.

"However, the instructions given by Anasharal the Helmsman, a grouchy and supercilious Kiriath robot, are irritatingly imprecise. If the rumors about the Changeling and the return of the dwenda are correct, Ringil will need to develop his understanding and control of the ikinri ‘ska, a demonic magic powered by otherworldly glyphs. Even worse, the dwenda possess an irresistible weapon, the Talons of the Sun—though nobody knows what it might consist of.

"He soon becomes separated from Archeth and Egan, who locate a Warhelm, an ancient Kiriath combat installation that seems to have had much of its programming and capabilities purposefully damaged—by Archeth’s father. This time, Morgan’s ultraviolent narrative, while still crackling with intensity and expletives, bloats up into doorstopper territory, with a corresponding loss of focus.

"Still, for the most part the prose remains atmospheric and highly textured, complete with subtexts and sexual interludes. Add on a conclusion that contrives to be both enigmatic and less than fully satisfying, and maybe doesn't even add up—yet such is the quality of Morgan’s vision, and few readers will feel short-changed or disappointed."
With so many back references to volume 1, The Steel Remains, and volume 2, The Cold Commands, the complete trilogy should be read in just a few sittings to keep the whole thing in your head.

Morgan writes in mosaic style - that is, the writing focuses on the day-to-day adventures of his protagonists (he prefers multiple parallel narratives in alternating chapters). Consequently, the overall plot-line remains background and emergent. This makes for wonderfully naturalistic prose but does force the reader to work a little to infer the larger picture. Plus you're kept tantalisingly short of information.

Morgan's densely-imagined world is one of clans, tribes and their kinship/tribal bonding and blood-debts; the impersonal bureaucratic state of modern capitalism barely exists. Society has reverted thus to its 'default social form' following a catastrophic war some thousands of years ago which destroyed the moon (giving the Earth a new ring system - the 'band'), a war which wrenched gaps between universes of the multiverse, wherein magick now resides.

One set of magical beings, the Dark Court, has some familiarish names: Takeshi Kovacs reappears cryptically as the Dark Court God Takovach (or Dakovash) while Dark Court Goddess Kelgris, (or Quelcrist) might remind you of Quellcrist Falconer. These strange back-references sort of make sense in the final revelations.

The trilogy title is of course ironic: all the heroes are messed-up outsiders who attract the attention of various power-elites who want to manipulate them. They've got tough choices to make and never quite enough information: sometimes it's gotta be gut feel all the way.

Here's Richard Morgan's world-view condensed down to a paragraph.
"Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a wilful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the very majority whom the system oppresses."