The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan

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The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A climactic end to the fantastic A Land Fit for Heroes trilogy, Richard Morgan manages to blend the best elements of classic fantasy with modern characters, strong violence and a huge amount of peril, creating a thrilling rollercoaster of a read that doesn't let up until the very last page. There are no tidy, happy ever after endings here – but natural conclusions for the grim and beautifully built world that Morgan has created.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0575088603

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Ringil Eskiath, Egar Dragonbane and Archeth Indamaninarmal have been through hell. Almost literally, in some cases. Now without fight or cause, they find themselves bored, searching for answers and fights wherever they can. But then the fight arrives, along with the Dark Court, the Empire and the greed of men. It soon becomes clear that a war fought thousands of years has not ended, but still rages fiercely on. A war that will take more than our adventurers to stop…

Richard Morgan burst on to the fantasy scene back in 2008 with The Steel Remains – the first in the Land Fit for Heroes trilogy. Already a successful author of Science Fiction, The Steel Remains was a revelation – action packed fantasy that honoured old fashioned Fantasy ideals, and yet introduced characters who felt, and acted modern – likeable, hugely flawed and mostly rather endearing. The Steel Remains focused on rather personal quests – before the sequel, The Cold Commands, pushed our characters into more of a larger scale conflict. The Dark Defiles does both – with personal quests blending into and eventually being rather overpowered by the massive threats that our characters come up against here.

That's not to say that the focus on character and development is lost – quite the opposite in fact. Morgan's consistent strong point throughout this series has been his incredible character work. Whilst they often do stupid, unlikeable and even vaguely reprehensible things, these characters genuinely leap off the page – and manage to be refreshingly different too. Ringil, essentially the lead character of the trilogy, is a somewhat downtrodden adventurer, a fearsome warrior, a passionate lover – and, as it happens, is gay. Whilst it has a large part in his backstory, it is not Ringil's defining characteristic – as often happens on the rare occasion when gay characters feature in Fantasy novels.

Morgan also seems keen to avoid a straightforward plot structure too, and I find it refreshing that his messy, untidy characters frequently end up in messy, untidy plots. It works very well for me as a reader, and I think reminds us that life is never straightforward. Defeating the bad guys will lead to more springing up, and dealing with one personal problem could very well form another three or four that need dealing with. The fact that the characters do so with good humour and much grumbling is hugely enjoyable, and a highlight of how this trilogy developed for me. I can, however, understand that some may find this a tricky read as a result. There are some slower sections earlier on, and an astonishing amount occurs in the last sixty or seventy pages. The way these characters end up may also frustrate some – there are no neat and tidy endings here, but I for one am very glad of that, and the way it suits the characters whose stories are brought to a close.

I do hope Richard Morgan will be back to writing fantasy in the near future – he's a great talent and his characters will stay with me. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy. For further reading – Promise of Blood (Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan is another dark and gritty fantasy that manages to keep grounded roots and real feeling, true to life characters.

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