The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan

by Mike A. Wants

The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan

March 5, 2015 Reviews 14

My relation to the Land fit for Heroes series is a strange one, you could say. I’ve never read the first book. Some years ago I found The Cold Commands in a bookstore and bought it. It wasn’t readily accessible that the book was the second installment of a series. That became obvious early on, but reading books not in the intended order isn’t actually that much of a problem. I’ve done it a couple of times.

I liked The Cold Commands well enough, but it felt too much like a transitioning book that lacked a proper ending. It felt like a giant setup for the next book.

I had no real intention to read on when I’d finished the second book of the series and got the third only because I noticed it on edelweiss and thought “why not?”. I was lucky to get the ARC and lucky I really was. For where the second book felt a bit lackluster, the third blew me away. Should I find the time, I’ll definitely get the first book and read the series the proper way, just to see how everything fits together in the end.

As you might know, I dabble in the art of writing myself, writing short stories and whatever comes into mind. I’ve done much to improve my own writing over the last years. This book not only gripped me from the start, it made me envious too. Not because of the realistic characters, the grim setting, the gritty plot, no… it made me envious because I don’t think I’ll ever manage to write such fitting prose as Richard K. Morgan.

As everything in this book, the prose fits like chalk and cheese (I hope I’m using this right). It’s not dreamlike prose that paints a vivid picture underlining the magical imagination at the heart of fantasy. Instead, it’s the heavy metal in the hands, the reek of blood in your nostrils, the cold sweat rolling down your back. It sucks you into a world of torment and danger expertly, without a wasted word.

This book is the perfect example for why execution matters so much. Everything from the characters to the plot benefits from the expert prose, made real with simple words. If you’re a budding writer interested in the fantasy genre, you should take this book as an example of what you can do with prose and how much it matters for every aspect of a book/story.

If you’ve come here after reading the other books of the series, let me tell you that this is a sure-buy for you. The Dark Defiles ends the series satisfactory, if a bit open-ended. The author gives hints at what might happen to our heroes (if you can call them that) and I’m content with what I expect to happen to them. I’ve heard that the ending can be a bit confusing, as much is left to the reader’s imagination, but I didn’t think that anything was lacking.

The characters are definitely some that became dear to my heart, much more so than in the second book. They do what is in their power and upheave whole countries while they are about, doing their stuff. A lot of that includes hitting, slashing, and bashing others to death, but the book doesn’t flaunt violence and our heroes never feel overpowered or more than human (even if not all of them are humans). They are highly skilled at what they do and especially Ringil Eskiath starts to transcend his human limitations without losing his core being.

Still, the book has its quieter moments too, often crammed full of world-building, giving the reader just enough breadcrumbs to piece together a greater story about the world and its conflicts.

I’ve been thinking about including the following part to the review for some time now. I’m now including it to not omit something that might interest you:
The book has graphic sex. And I’m not talking about “two people humping each other under a blanket”-kind of sex. I’m talking about the protagonist having a dick in his mouth and enjoying it. I’m mentioning it mostly because having such graphic sex isn’t common in the genre, not even in the grimdark sub-genre. If that’s a reason for you not to pick up the book, that’s your loss. I enjoyed every part of the book and if the aforementioned makes you think twice about picking the book up, I’d suggest you get over the nagging voice in your head, and do yourself a favor and pick the book up anyway.

Concluding: With all its different aspects, the book makes for a satisfying reading experience, a treat for fans of the grimdark sub-genre. Especially the prose and the whole execution make this book to something you should pick up. The Dark Defiles is a worthwhile ending to a series that’ll leave you both happy and sad for the parting of ways with these characters who have become dear to you so fast and seemingly effortless.

14 Responses

  1. Frosty says:

    Great review to a very good series! I’d definitely recommend reading the first book. It’s pretty good (though arguably the weakest) and has one of the great opening lines in all of fantasy. My favorite aspect of this series was the worldbuilding; outside of Vance, I don’t think a post-apocalyptic medieval setting has been done so well. Him being a science fiction writer and all clearly shows. Even more interesting for those in the know, there are some huge easter eggs with some serious implications hidden in it if you’ve read his Takeshi Kovacs novels, which you certainly should. Altered Carbon is his best novel after all.

    • Mike Wants says:

      Thank you!
      I definitely plan to read Morgan’s other books and your mention of easter eggs makes me only more interested. I’ve bumped up Altered Carbon high on my to-read list and will make it a priority after I’ve finished my current books.

    • Frosty says:

      Woah… from what I gathered from Wikipedia, that comic looks impressive. I’ll definitely give it a shot. Depending on how much reading time you have, holding off on the Saxon Chronicles is probably a good idea. Eight books and counting, so it’s a time sink. As for the TV adaption, there is a 15 second teaser on Youtube if you want to get a feel for what it’ll look like. Just type in “The Last Kingdom BBC trailer.”

      Just by glancing at the Goodreads and Amazon reviews, it seems I’m in the minority when it comes to Two Serpents Rise. I’m not alone, though, because the more negative opinions express the same problems I had with it. All in all, I’d say it’s decent and worth a read for the Aztec setting alone, which is so rarely utilized in fantasy. Who knows, maybe you will end up enjoying it way more than I did. 🙂

      • Mike Wants says:

        What a tease! Doesn’t give much, but it looks as well done as everything BBC does. And it’s right up my interests. I’ll definitely keep this TV-Series in mind.

        Well, I know from what other readers write that many don’t have that much of a problem with characters acting illogical, often for the sake of plot advancement. So it doesn’t surprise me that only a minority would criticize the book for it. I believe I’ll have to see for myself, as you’re right, the Aztec setting isn’t common and I like to explore settings that blast the norms apart.

  2. Frosty says:

    No problem. I’m just glad to see a glowing review to what I feel is a highly underrated series. With all the attention Abercrombie, Lynch, Lawrence etc. get, I’m surprised people don’t talk about Morgan in the same breath. I feel he is roughly on their level.

    As for Altered Carbon, I’d say you’re really in for a treat. Morgan seamlessly combines hardboiled noir with cyberpunk and gives you a fairly interesting antihero protagonist as well. This novels is positively bursting with creative and thought-provoking ideas, making you (or at least me) wish it was 100 pages longer. It’s got his usual penchant for well-written action scenes, great characterization, grimy prose, as well as fast pacing (something I feel A Land Fit For Heroes struggles with) and an engaging mystery. The sequels aren’t quite as good, but they’re still worth a read. Sorry for the gushing, it’s just one of my favorite novels!

    On an unrelated note, what are you currently reading?

    • Mike Wants says:

      It sounds very interesting! Don’t worry about the gushing, I’m know to do the same now and again 😉

      I also agree, Morgan’s series should be mentioned more around the web, especially his execution is second to none!

      I’m reading The Heroes by Abercrombie at the moments (since we’re already kinda talking about him). I’d started it month ago, but got sidetracked by more interesting books, but I’ve now sat myself down and want to finish it. Not that it’s a bad book, it’s prose and execution are incredible, and the military part realistic, but it just takes so much time to get anywhere with its myriad of characters. After that it’s back to Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards, which I’ve started in the last weeks too. Then I’ll probably have to read one of the other dozen books or so I’ve lying around here, but I might break down and get Altered Carbon instead!

      On a related note, what are you reading?

      • Frosty says:

        Oooh, Abercrombie’s standalone are incredible, The Heroes and Red Country particularly so.

      • Mike Wants says:

        I’m enjoying it, I just wish it would go a bit faster. The details are incredible, but they make the story crawl to a snail’s pace at times.

      • Frosty says:

        Whoops! Accidentally submitted. As I was saying, Abercombie is great but I’m somewhat leery about his new books due to the whole YA stigma thing, which I realize is unfair on my part. Have you read them and, if so, would you recommend them?

        I also have the first two books in the Bloodsounder’s Arc series in my unread pile at my desk. I’m excited to read them because I heard they are somewhat similar to The Black Company, another personal favorite of mine.

        As to what what I’m reading right now, that would be The Pale Horseman (historical fiction), the second novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series. It’s good and he’s top tier when it comes to combat/action, but his books all tend to follow a familiar formula. His Warlord Chronicles have more depth and feeling and I really feel that he outdid himself with that series. On the fantasy side of things, I’m currently 2/3 done with Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone. I’m enjoying his originality but I wish he had a better sense of humor. 🙂

      • Mike Wants says:

        I’ve read the first book of his new series and liked it, without it being awesome. It’s a good series, but he’s a more dark writer than works for YA, so the book stood between YA and other books without quite fitting either. You can find my review for Half a King here. It’s something to keep on your to-read list and maybe get when they are a bit cheaper.

        Black Company didn’t impress me, as I found the story to be too jumpy for my tastes. Scourge was interesting, but some details just didn’t fit. It’s strongest suit is the dialog, even if the dialect of the soldiers can get annoying. I wouldn’t really compare it to Black Company, as it’s much smaller in scope, and more focused on the actual battles and fights.

        I like Cornwell too. His Arthur Saga was brilliant and I’ve recently started the Sharpe Series. The Saxon series is definitely something I’m eyeing too, but it’s down the list somewhere.
        I’ve only read the first book by Max Gladstone, but really enjoyed it. It’s something different and that’s always good in my book. I want to read on with the series, but as so often, other books come in-between.

      • Frosty says:

        Hmm. Nice review. It fits in with much of what I’ve heard about the series. I feel that what Abercrombie tries to accomplish wouldn’t really fit in with the YA genre. Not that YA novels can’t be highly intelligent and mature, just that the content of his books are unsuitable for YA, and watering it down would dilute what is so great about him in the first place. I’ll definitely give it a go, probably buy it used. Thanks!

        I totally understand your feelings about The Black Company and those are some valid criticisms. It’s a pretty divisive series; I just happen to be on the side that loves it! The minimalist style takes some getting used to, but once that happened I found it to be a breathe of fresh air from all those Jordanesque descript-a-thon mega series.

        About Jeff Salyards, the only major similarity I heard was that the protagonist was the company annalist, which brought to Glen cook for me. And if it has great dialogue, I definitely have to bump it up the list, as that’s probably my favorite aspect of a book.

        We’re in complete agreement over the Arthur books. Just fantastic historical detail and reworking of the Arthurian mythos with some interesting characterization and serious feels to boot. My only major complaint was that the protagonist felt a bit wooden, which I find to be a reoccurring issue with Cornwell. Thankfully, Uhtred happens to be a bit more interesting than Derfel. He actually happens to vaguely resemble Logen Ninefingers somewhat and has a decent sense of humor. Plus, there’s a BBC TV adaption in the works that airs some time later this year, so now is a good time to get into the Saxon series.

        In terms of creativity, I put Gladstone up there with Mieville, Zelazny, and them, which is rare air indeed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to enjoy the second as much due to the plot being propelled by stupid illogical decisions by the main characters. It still retains the wonderfully original worldbuilding of the first (this time in a pseudo-Aztec setting) and builds on the previous book, but irrational decision-making happens to be one of the things that really sets me off. I must have cursed up to 30 times while reading this book, I was so frustrated. Thankfully, the third fixes that, so no complaints here.

      • Mike Wants says:

        Thank you!

        His Arthur books are my second favorite look at the Arthur legends, only eclipsed by the Prince Valiant Comics, but it’s been many years since I’ve read them. I mean to re-read them, but there are so many books on my plate that re-read as down the list somewhere. I doubt I’ll get to the Saxon books anytime soon, so it’s nice to hear that there’ll be a TV adaption!

        I’m with you on the illogical stuff, so I might just skip the second book and go right to the third, but the setting sounds so intriguing. If things in a book only happen because the story needs them to happen like that, but any normal human would do something completely different, then I can’t really take it seriously. While I’ve read some wonderful self-published books, this is something I see in many self-published books. They want to tell their story, but don’t take their characters into consideration. It can be infuriating!

    • Frosty says:

      (Posted on wrong comment) Woah… from what I gathered from Wikipedia, that comic looks impressive. I’ll definitely give it a shot. Depending on how much reading time you have, holding off on the Saxon Chronicles is probably a good idea. Eight books and counting, so it’s a time sink. As for the TV adaption, there is a 15 second teaser on Youtube if you want to get a feel for what it’ll look like. Just type in “The Last Kingdom BBC trailer.”

      Just by glancing at the Goodreads and Amazon reviews, it seems I’m in the minority when it comes to Two Serpents Rise. I’m not alone, though, because the more negative opinions express the same problems I had with it. All in all, I’d say it’s decent and worth a read for the Aztec setting alone, which is so rarely utilized in fantasy. Who knows, maybe you will end up enjoying it way more than I did. 🙂

      • Mike Wants says:

        Since I’d forgotten to add that to my other reply, I wanted to add that you’re spot on. Prince Valiant is brilliant. Incredible art paired with great characters, a moving story sprawled over decades, and a great, medieval setting. Definitely worth to get, but they can be kinda expensive. I’m trying to get the whole collection, as I’d previously only lend them from my local library, but 2 Years cost about 20€, and since the series was written over decades there are a lot of years to pay for. So they became my go-to present when friends and family had no idea what to get me.

        I have to add that I might be biased because I loved them so much as a child. But the first ten years I now own have only strengthened me in the believe that Prince Valiant is a story at the very peak of storytelling. A treat for anyone interested in King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

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