The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan
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.