Top positive review
Excellent continuation of The Steel Remains
Reviewed in the United States on January 13, 2017
You could make a pretty persuasive case for The Steel Remains as a standalone novel. Sure, it lays the groundwork for The Cold Commands, but when you finish reading it, you can comfortably stop there, if you choose, and still feel as though you’ve read a story with an actual ending. Not so with The Cold Commands. Ringil, Egar, and Archeth return, worse for wear, angry and weary, to the continued decay of the world around them. A plot, not so much new as developed out of the ashes of The Steel Remains, begins and slowly takes form over the course of the entire book. By the end, things are resolved only enough to avoid the stigma of being called a cliffhanger. From a negative perspective, one may dislike the pace. The action comes in staccato bursts, with long moments of leading up to and recovering from, and the links between sub-plots are at first invisible, and still pretty thin (but thoughtful) by the end. This isn’t a book to read quickly, or to passively enjoy. It demands your full attention, and for some, may not reward it. Plot mechanics aside, the characters are extremely well formed. They deviate more from the standard archetypes they begin in, and behave as erratically as you’d expect actual heroes to act; at least heroes of this land. Which is really the crux of what Morgan is trying to do here. Logically, a land fit for heroes is one that is in pretty bad shape. The phrase may conjure up a world where heroes are plentiful, but its actually the opposite. This land is ‘fit’ for them. And the heroes themselves are more akin to heavily armed sociopaths with a life’s worth of scarring, bigotry, and religious extremism to guide their moral paths. Sounds not unlike another world I know of, come to think of it.
It is difficult and more challenging to find time to read a book that you have to make character notes for, and if you just have a handful of time, or are on a plane or something, forget it, The Cold Commands requires more attention than that. As a result, it took me a long time to read, and I had to do some reviewing each time I stepped back into it. That said, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The writing is rich and literary, more polished when needed in reflective moments, but just as edgy as it was in Steel Remains. The buildup here is so subtle and well done, that I noticed myself sucking a breath in through my teeth toward the end. Morgan set out to write a fantasy for grown-ups (I think he said somewhere), and he really has. This isn’t just a fantasy novel sprinkled with bad language and graphic sex, it’s a fantasy novel with difficult ideas that require thought and a narrative structure that doesn’t hold the door open for you. Despite feeling like more of a part one to a two part ending of this trilogy, I liked the Cold Commands better than the Steel Remains. It may just be that here, more so than in other similar genre novels, the characters really live and breathe. While I had only just begun to know them in Steel, I felt close to them now, like I also have something at stake in their well-being. On one hand, I’m eager to read the concluding novel. On the other, I fear for what comes next.