Two mini reviews: Master of None-Lee Benoit/The Steel Remains-Richard Morgan

Master of None by Lee Benoit.

Adi?n has terrible luck with lovers. One has died, the other has been traded away to help the village, and he has no one left. Joining a troupe of acrobats, Adi?n leaves his village in search of Devi, his old lover and best friend, hoping to save him from whatever fate has befallen him since he was sold. He searches in brothels and slave pens with the help of his new friends, but when he finally finds Devi, Adi?n is afraid too many bad things have happened for Devi to trust again. Can he find a way to convince his lover that they can have a life together?

I loved this, and yet in other ways it made me very annoyed. All in all it’s an enthralling read and there is some very beautiful prose here, making me want to read more of Benoit’s work. Adi?n is an innocent, from an innocent civilisation who travels into a world he doesn’t understand, often having to grasp language and even concepts (such as the term, “virgin”) that he doesn’t know. His attachment for Devi is touching and convincing, and my heart ached when it was explained what might have happened to the boy. The secondary characters are fascinating; the troupe of entertainers that he joins colourful and well-drawn but they all suffer from what I think is the main problem with this book.

It needed to be a novel.

It’s a small book, about 50 or so pages, and that’s my main gripe with it. There’s a huge amount of promise in this, mythos, culture, backstory, two entire civilisations that we only get tantalising glimpses of, and yet the whole thing is squashed down and reduced to what is a lovely love story, but could have been so much more. I wanted to know about the innocent world where Adi?n came from, I wanted to know the familial set up, I longed to know about the story-song-tradition, why songs were so important, why the village was failing. I wanted to know so MUCH and it’s all just hinted about.  There’s more than enough in this almost perfect little jewel of a book to fill a saga and yet it’s frustrating because I just felt like I was pressing my nose against the glass.  I hope that, when the Torquere rights expire, Benoit takes this book and realises its worth and reworks it into the book it deserves to be.

And that cover? I’d rather not comment. 

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

Ringil Eskiath is the third son of an aristocratic family. As the book opens he’s living in a dump of a village, subsisting on his notoriety as one of the heroes of a war against “the lizard folk,” dragons that crawled out of the sea 10 years before in an attempt at invasion. He’s also homosexual, which is strictly forbidden by law and punishable by a very nasty death. He’s dragged from his self-pitying retirement by his mother who wishes him to rescue a cousin who has been sold into slavery for a bad debt. He soon finds that it’s not as simple as it seems – in ten years the world has moved along and former criminals are now powerful forces and there are strange reports of demons dropping from the skies.

Ringil is particularly charismatic, he’s self-driven, and yet has a loyalty to his family despite his (quite justified) antagonism with his father and brothers. He’s a class fighter, but he knows he’s not as good as he was ten years ago.  He’s unrepentantly homosexual despite the dangers (his first lover was executed in a horribly visceral way) and it’s great to read a character where romance isn’t the issue, but where his predilections colour his world.

We meet Archeth (a half human, half demon who was abandoned by her race (the Kiriath) when they fled the world after the lizard war) who is working for The Yleteth Empire, corrupt, hypocritical and uber religious, and Egar, the Clansmaster of a steppe-dwelling tribe far to the north who is summoned by gods to assist Ringil.

It’s certainly not a comfortable read. The brutality and violence are immense and there’s nothing much undescribed or left to the imagination. The good guys aren’t particularly good, and you get the feeling that the bad guys aren’t particularly bad, either. This makes a wonderful and realistic balance, where even Ringil doubts and walks on both sides.

The dialogue is contemporary, and whilst that jarred a little, it soon settled as there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. These people aren’t speaking English – and certainly not an archaic form of English – they are speaking their own language, in a modern form. Hence “faggot” “queer” “Dad” all fitted as well as any euphemisms. One of the best  lines in the book is just after Ringil giving a rousing Henry V speech to a pitiful band left to hold the line against forces coming to kill them. Egar simply says “I’m with the faggot.”

There’s some wonderful black humour here, which I appreciated a lot. Pre-battle talk, joshing amongst veterans of previous bloodbaths and post-battle jokes. Together with inventive monsters and some quite horrific images of the terrible things that demons do to humans, and humans do to each other.

However! I have some of the same complaints as with Lee Benoit’s tiny book.  I felt that The Steel Remains – no matter that it was 400 pages long rather than 50 – was smaller than it needed to be and I couldn’t see the need for it. Once more there’s a huge untapped world here – So much not explained: Who are these gods, the “Sky-dwellers” who take Egar’s side? Why did the Kiriath leave? What are the grey spaces?  What are the Dwenda and what is their connection to the Kiriath?  Yes yes, you have no idea what I’m talking about, but I hope I’m making myself clear in the fact that although I enjoyed this book immensely, all it did was ask more questions than it answered. It also spent over ? of the book on Set-Up, and a very rushed ending, which was mostly fight scene, and didn’t address any of the questions I had.

I don’t know if Morgan intends to write more of it, but I hope so, because if this is all there is, then I feel a little cheated.

© Copyright 2008 Erastes, All rights Reserved. Written For: Erastes
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