‘The Steel Remains’ by Richard Morgan

The Steel Remains

WARNING: THIS MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

On paper, everything about ‘The Steel Remains’ screamed out at me as a must read and potential new favourite book. Graphic violence and sex, dark gritty characters who fall outside of the regular ‘hero’ slot, and epic world-building brimming with potential lore. However, I was massively disappointed, so much so that I didn’t even manage to finish.

I’ve been trying to work out what it is that just didn’t click with me for ‘The Steel Remains’ because there was a lot in the book I actually really liked. I love the character of Ringil, a cynical world-weary, former solider, sarcastic, and insightful and most importantly, flawed. He also happens to be gay, by which I mean unlike so many other characters who are homosexual, his orientation, whilst obviously being a key part of his character, doesn’t dominate his character. It’s so refreshing to have a character like that who, like I said, happens to be gay, rather than just IS gay.

Likewise, for most of the book, I enjoyed following Ringil as he returned home after many years away, having to deal with the conflicts and such which arise as a result. Unfortunately, the other characters and their stories where nowhere near as engaging. I really didn’t care about either of the other two parallel stories or the protagonists in them until late into the book. They just didn’t interest me at all, and even when it returned back to Ringil’s story, that wasn’t enough to help it.

I did push through this however, and those complaints started to fade away a little, until Ringil was taken by the Dwenda (a sort of evolved being almost like a demi-god). I was giving ‘The Steel Remains’ a lot of the benefit of the doubt and assuming that it was just a slow burn, that all the stories would start to pick up pace as the stakes were revealed and heightened. However, once Ringil was abducted, the pace of the book just got slower and slower, becoming really difficult to stay engaged with. In the end, I just put it down and haven’t picked it up since.

Overall, there is a lot to like in the book in term of the well-rounded range of characters, and I can fully see why a lot of people enjoy it. I will probably attempt to come back to it and try reading it again in the future, but for the time being I came away feeling very disappointed.

‘Awaken Online: Precipice’ by Travis Bagwell

Awaken Online Precipice

WARNING: THIS MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

The second book in the ‘Awaken Online’ series and it managed to improve on just about every aspect of the first. Continuing the story of Jason, the ruler of an undead city in a VR-RPG, as he seeks to consolidate and expand his power and influence. This time though, we also get to see more of the lesser characters in the first book, Frank and Riley, a deeper look at the main antagonist, Alex, as well as the AI who runs the game, Alfred.

I liked the first book, I found the story gripping and enjoyable. The main problems I had with the book however were the characters. Whilst I liked Jason and his arc, I really wasn’t a fan of Alex and felt like Riley could have been done better. This was not the case with this book however. The three main protagonists all felt real, they were all clearly flawed people who were trying to do their best and overcome the obstacles in their lives. For Jason, it was the creeping, unseen overconfidence and ability to treat others as more than pawns in his schemes, Riley had deep trust issues, and Frank had a major case of lacking in confidence. All three characters were forced to work through these problems in order to succeed in what they were trying to do and were written well. Out of the three, Frank’s arc was, for me, done the best. His high achieving family, mixed with him being overweight, left a sense of credibility for why he would be so lacking in confidence. As well as that, being forced to recognise that he was being carried by his friends and was essentially, the bitch of the group, was a good way of kick starting his character development. Driven by his anger of always being the worst and his own shame, he begins to fight more and gain equal footing with his friends. Although I thought he went from zero to hero a little too quickly, especially when you compare the developments of Jason and Riley, I still felt it was believable. I still struggle with the character of Riley however. I really like her, I just find that she’s a little inconsistent throughout the book. You can never quite predict how she is going to act or react to something. Yes on one hand this is a good thing as it keeps giving a few surprises, however it can be a little frustrating as she doesn’t always have the best reasons for doing what she does, character wise.

I really liked that we saw things from Alex’s point of view. At first I thought that I’d find his sections of the story a little boring and distracting from the main plot of Jason and co. However, I really enjoyed how Alex was given several chances at redemption but continued to make bad choices, choosing the easy path over the hard one every time. This stands in stark contrast with Jason, who continually chooses the harder path, because he knows that ultimately it’ll reap far better rewards for everyone, not just himself. It is here that my only real complaint can be found, and it mirrors one I had in the first book. I still think that Alex’s character is too extreme, the things he does in the real world are ridiculous and over the top. Yes his dad being extremely rich will always help, but you can only assault so many people before the police finally have enough, and blackmail so many dangerous people before they too have enough. There are points in the book where characters accuse Jason of “being like Alex”, which is nonsensical due to no matter what he does, he is completely the opposite to Alex which anyone would be able to see. It would have been far more interesting is Alex had been more normal and he and Jason being genuinely similar with their making the opposite decisions to the same problems. That way there would have been a really intriguing character dynamic between the two and others. It would also further underpin the idea that Jason is being seen as evil, despite only making decisions that better his city and his people, whereas Alex is seen as good, but actively only brings death to those around him.

Finally, I was a bit fan of the religious undertones of the book. It would have been so easy to just ignore or mess it up, but Travis has done a really good job at showing how religions and cults can quickly be started. Travis also did a great job in showing how easy it is to misunderstand or jump to conclusions about someone and develop a negative view of them based simply on not having the whole story.

I was thoroughly engrossed in ‘Awaken Online: Precipice’ throughout, even more so than the first. The cliff-hanger at the end of the book was done very well, much like at the end of the first, leaving me wanting more and eagerly anticipating the third book in the series (not including the two shorter ones about Riley and a OC, respectively) without feeling cheated or annoyed.