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The Cold Commands Paperback – Oct 2 2012
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"Heroic fantasy [with] several surprising twists."—The Wall Street Journal
“[Richard K.] Morgan brings a fresh approach to epic fantasy. . . . [The Cold Commands] should appeal to fans of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.”—Library Journal
“Pulpy and hard-core, but with a heart of gold . . . Imagine a drawing by Frank Frazetta, come to life in an intelligent story full of dry wit and characters you actually care about.”—io9
“Passionate, fast-paced, smart and furious . . . This is a character-driven and intelligent fantasy. . . . Robert E. Howard would have approved.”—SFX
“The action sequences are sheer brilliance. . . . Morgan’s writing has a power and energy that few can match.”—SFRevu --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Richard Morgan was born in 1965 and was, until his writing career took off, a tutor at Strathclyde University in the English Language Teaching division. He has travelled widely and lived in Spain and Istanbul. He is a fluent Spanish speaker. He has had two of his books optioned in Hollywood and has won both the PHILIP K. DICK and ARTHUR C. CLARKE AWARDS. He lives in Glasgow with his wife.
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Now Egar, Archeth and Ringil face separate mysteries. A bar-room brawl and reports of slaves being held in unusual circumstances leads Egar into an ill-advised confrontation with the Empire's dominant religion. A warning from the Helmsmen sends Archeth on a mission into the wastelands to recover a valuable item, an item which comes with a dire warning. And a chance encounter between a runaway slave and Ringil results in blood, mayhem and revelations of a dark kind.
The Cold Commands is the long-awaited sequel to Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains, the author's first foray away from SF and into the arena of secondary world fantasy. The Steel Remains was a blood-soaked, swords and sorcery adventure, black of humour and fairly brimming over with violence and sex (most of it graphic and gay, to the disquiet of some readers). It was solid enough stuff, though perhaps not as good as the billing suggested. Morgan's SF is so good because he writes with anger, flair and passion, and is at its best when he is clearly ticked off about something (in Black Man, particularly the self-destruction of a society which cannot talk to itself, only throw up barriers and tear itself apart). The Steel Remains, though a reasonably solid novel, lacked the vitality of his earlier SF.
The Cold Commands has that energy back, and in spades. Here Morgan confronts the issues of religious fundamentalism and blind dogma as the Citadel attempts to garner more control over the Empire than the young (and notoriously uncompromising) Emperor. Archeth recalls the religious disagreements that almost tore apart her parents' marriage: her Kiriath father's mounting horror as his calm, rational scientific explanations for everything are rejected by his human wife in favour of rote-learned rhetoric. These issues give the book a bit of a philosophical and thematic kick to it that sees Morgan's writing return to the top of its game.
Whilst this issue is present and explored intriguingly, it does not overwhelm the plot. This time around there is a three-pronged storyline with each of the major protagonists having their own story arc to follow. Ringil probably has slightly more action than Archeth and Egar, but the division of responsibility between the three is more equal this time around. This approach contributes to the book's greater length (more than half again the size of The Steel Remains) and also allows Morgan to bring in the noir-like investigative tone of his earlier SF work. We also get a lot more backstory and revelations about the mysteries of the world, which further the hints in The Steel Remains that this is as much a far-future SF story as it is a fantasy epic.
Morgan's skills with characterisation are extremely strong, as usual. Ringil remains an unreliable and flawed protagonist, whose motivations are fascinating and complex, whilst Archeth is conflicted and guilt-driven, unsure of her place in the world now the rest of her people have departed. Even the relatively straightforward Egar has his frustrations and demons that drive him to make some spectacular mistakes which drive the plot onwards. The secondary cast, this time consisting of mostly new faces with only a few returning characters, is also extremely well-drawn, particularly the increasingly punchable young Emperor and the new character of Anasharal, who is amusing and annoying in equal measure.
This is a character-driven and intelligent fantasy novel, but Morgan doesn't forget to bring the mayhem. There's a midnight raid on a temple that Robert E. Howard would have approved of, more swordfights and murders than you can shake a stick at and a few rare but impressive displays of sorcery...though the dividing line between 'sorcery' and 'vastly superior technology' is intriguingly blurry.
In fact, the only thing lets The Cold Commands down is that a major storyline is kicked into gear in the latter part of the novel only to be put on hold for the impressive finale. With this story presumably left to be picked up in the third book, this means that The Cold Commands does not stand alone as nicely as the The Steel Remains, and is not as self-contained. This is a relatively minor issue, but one worth bearing in mind.
The Cold Commands (****½) sees Morgan back on top form and delivering a book as passionate, fast-paced, smart and furious as any of his SF.
This is from the Amazon product description of The Cold Commands: "An expedition is outfitted for the long and arduous sea journey to find the lost island of the Illwrack Changeling. Aboard are Gil, Egar, and Archeth: each fleeing from ghosts of the past, each seeking redemption in whatever lies ahead. But redemption doesn't come cheap these days. Nor, for that matter, does survival. Not even for Ringil Eskiath. Or anyone--god or mortal--who would seek to use him as a pawn."
Here is the problem. This expedition? This expedition never gets under way. In fact the expedition is never even outfitted. Shoot, it's two hundred pages into the book before the purpose of the expedition is brought to light. Afterward a group of expeditionaries is assembled but nothing else comes to pass, leaving readers to assume that this expedition will be part of the third novel. This is the biggest problem with the novel. At the start you can feel the momentum, the characters being guided toward this plot beacon. And as the pages fly by the characters only seem to creep closer by the inch. The gun is introduced in the first act but forgotten about completely by the third it seems. As I got closer and closer to the end I found myself imagining the cast of Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail screaming "GET ON WITH IT!"
Like the last novel I found Ringil and Archeth's perspectives to be the most compelling while Egar's story failed to hold my interest. Sadly Ringil's perspective seemed to flounder during this novel as well. Ringil starts out with a bang, rescuing slaves and killing evil doers. But then he winds up in the Gray Places, and his perspective loses focus. The real gem of The Cold Commands is Archeth. Once again I found myself enthusiastically waiting for her chapters, eager to learn even the smallest bits about the Kiriath or the Helmsmen. The are some new supporting characters introduced but there is no real effort to develop them any further than their direct relationships with the main POV's.
The best part of this series to date has to be Morgan's inclusion of science fiction elements into this fantasy world. The Kiriath and their technology, specifically the mysterious Helmsmen are intriguing. Unfortunately the horrifying Aldrain have a limited presence in the novel, even if their machinations are clearly going on in the background. My favorite overall moment of the story is when the Helmsman responsible for delivering the warning to Archeth and the Empire explains the earliest history of the world and the origins of the Kiriath/Aldrain conflict. More of this would have been welcomed.
The novel is not completely without pros. Ringil is, as ever, a fascinating character. Fans of the genre are unlikely to find an anti-hero as unique as Ringil Angeleyes. As ever, Morgan's anger and sharp wit is at play. Fundamentalist religion takes a heavy hit, as does imperialism. The forces of the world are painted in shades of black. There is darkness in the world and Morgan does not shy away from violence and more controversial issues. The Cold Commands is not a bad novel. Richard K. Morgan is a highly skilled writer, especially when it comes to dialogue. That said, The Cold Commands strikes me as irrelevant, a prime example of "middle book syndrome." The stage is set for the third book in the series, but this installment seems superfluous. I'll go ahead and buy The Dark Defiles, but I'll be more careful with my expectations.
This is the first book in a long time that I just put back on the shelf midway through with no plans to pick it up again, ever. Morgan is a talented writer, but I think he was trying to be just a bit too clever here.
If you really enjoyed the first book, then you probably will enjoy 'The Cold Commands': if anything, it is more of the material, only with the complexity increased. If you didn't care for the first book, you shouldn't expect any different with this effort.
I would advise that Kovacs fans steer clear of these books. I doubt one could intentionally get further away from the sci-fi/noir ethos of those books than what you have here.
1. This book is "tighter" than the first. Each storyline is interesting. I tuned Eg out in the first book; here he's central to the action. Every chapter, just about, is action-packed -- be the action be active battle, or artful banter, such as Archeth excels at - and Ringil, too, for that matter, when he takes command of a group of unruly merchants.
2. The story is a tight mystery, as Archeth, Ringil and Eg all -- in different ways -- pursue the mystery of the Dwenda and the Dark Court. I found this fascinating. It pulled me through the book, made me linger on every word. What are the Dwenda up to? Can we trust the Dark Court, who seem to oppose them? And what of the mysterious visitor Archeth receives? That snide little helmsman from the sky, who queries Ringil, "Where'd you get that murderous little thing?" (My wording might be slightly off). Ringil starts to tell him where his sword came from. The helmsman answers, "I was talking to the sword." Ha!
3. Egar is very likable -- a true hero and gentleman in this book, and Ringil, still an anti-hero, still bad-ass, but more human, even as he grows to be more than human. Archeth is sharper, clearer. As one reviewer mentioned, her character and storyline are perhaps the most interesting.
4. I like the sex scenes. Another reviewer mentioned this: they are natural. The stuff you'd find in a lot of sci-fi for adults, and certainly anything by Morgan. Ringil is gay, which I count as a plus -- a big one in this world of hetero-obsession, and a big one for Ringil's character, as it gives him more to fight against internally and externally in the brutal and homophobic world in which he resides. In this book he's a lot more accepting of it himself, and the book treats it as another part of his character. (If you like sex scenes, I'd say you'll get about as much as in the Steel Remains.) The only problem: Why the heck isn't Archeth getting as much sex as the men? She can more than pull her weight in this area if Morgan would allow her.
There are a couple of wobbly moments. One or two things that don't quite make sense to me -- but these are very minor. I liked Ringil's travels in the grey places. They only take up a couple of chapters, and then he's back in the action, but they are packed full, particularly if you are interested in the building mystery of the Dwenda and the Dark Court.
Morgan, thanks for this one. I have it on my Kindle, but I'm going to also buy it in book form, too, so I can keep it on my shelf. It's that darned good. This and the Steel Remains.
The same basic structure is there. The three main characters kill/maim/degrade their way across the story, and if there was any "hero" left in their anti-hero natures from the first book, it's gone now. The sarcastic jerk gods return, as does the seemingly endless black humor. Within that context it's a fun read.
On the other hand, the book doesn't really go anywhere. A good third of it is taken up by another walkabout by Ringil through the Margins. While the first had at least Seethlaw and figuring out what exactly they were, this time it just drags.
Where the first at least had a cohesive goal for Ringil, this time he's just as aimless as the other two main characters, and it's not an improvement. The story doesn't end on anything like a satisfactory note; it seems more like Morgan wrote a 800 page book, said oops and cut it neatly in half.
Finally, I do like the broad narrative over the two books: Ringil turning from anti-hero to outright villain. Except Morgan puts it together haphazardly to say the least. The interesting formative events in Ringil's life- the execution of his boyfriend, his disownment, the war- all happen prior to the series and are recounted in brief, halting flashbacks. And that's fine, except that his "downward slide" just sort of happens. He acquires magic powers just because, and it happens so rapidly even Ringil doesn't understand what they are or how to use them. There's no progression from Ringil the burnt out veteran at the beginning of the Steel Remains to Ringil the terrifying sorceror-warrior lunatic at the end of Cold Commands. It's not the sort of nonprogression where Ringil/the reader doesn't NOTICE his slide. There's not even a slide; he just starts picking fights and killing people in a notably more asinine way than he had before in one chapter versus another.
This might be middle book syndrome and go away with the third/final installment in the series. All the same it was a disappointing encore to The Steel Remains.