I got this copy from the First Reads program.
I figured out why I keep coming back to Richard K. Morgan: it's his essential Scottishness. I have no idea whether he's actually Scottish, like born in the borders kind of Scottish, but he is in his soul, for very sure. Maybe what I'm about to say is bullshit, and I'm okay with that, given the subject, but the Scots for me embody a certain kind of elegant profanity, a level of cussedness that makes the insult into a martial art. Celtic dozens. I recently re-watched most of Trainspotting leaves off, our pov characters back in their respective messes, fighting their ways towards a...what...a narrative inevitability? This is some high fantasy buggery all days and nights, as my daughter would say. (The "all days and nights" part - this is her oral formulaic for forever - not the buggery.) That Morgan is pulling off this level of biting profanity in a high fantasy, a genre known more often for stilted heroic folderol, now that is something to see. (And, while this is dressed as high fantasy -- empires, barbarians, dragons, etc - I get the distinct impression that much of the magic is more the indistinguishable from magic kind. The elfish people especially: that is definitely an AI, that elf chick is talking to.)
Oh hai, did I mention buggery? I talked about this in my review for the previous novel in this series, but I keep being happily astonished by high fantasy that isn't afraid of TEH GAYS, that isn't afraid of hard politics and the inevitable trauma of war. I can't really tease this out completely at the moment, but the world here is almost a generation after an almost genocide, not the kind where a culture is erased, but an entire species. (And ask me later about the whole race/species distinction - I can't work up to it at the moment, even though it would be an interesting conversation, in the abstract.) This is a world where veterans beg on the streets, parlay visible wounds into coin, when the less visible ones - disaffection, lack of purpose, shellshock - are the ones society should be worrying about. And how some of society, the bearded religious assholes, turn that disaffection to political ends in the worst way.
Morgan has always written fucking excellent violence, like, the best fight scenes I've ever had the sick pleasure to read. Here he delivers a little too often, so that I'm like, oh, good, we're having a bar brawl again? There were even points where he skipped over the details, and I thought, great, there's some restraint, but then he pulled back and delivered more violence in retrospect. Mostly, I'm not complaining too loudly, because Morgan's violence (usually) has a purpose, (usually) isn't disconnected from the plot, so that the violence advances character and the world. Who puts the knife in your hand is as important as the wielding of it.
It's funny. I'm going to give this four stars even though I gave the intro novel three, even though I think the spine here is less personal, less felt than The Steel Remains
. Shrug. Rating are bullshit, you know. I didn't re-read SR before this, because fuck you, life is short, so I flailed for a bit in the names and built world - and I still think Morgan's names are shitty and distracting - but he built the world memorably enough that I was like, oh yeah, that one thing, oh god, really? It's hard to review these later entries to a series because I don't want to drop spoilers, but this book almost offhandedly explains some things while building to the next sequences in a really satisfying way. He's getting the band back together after the dissolution of the last plot, and while there's an itchy, waiting quality to what transacts here, it continues to be the same profane, Scottish fuck-allery that I have grown to expect from Morgan. Dark Lord, you're still risin'. Twss.