Stephen's Reviews > The Cold Commands

The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan
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May 08, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, 2011, dark-and-gritty, moorcocks-broken-sword, signed-first-or-limited-edition, audiobook
Read from April 30 to May 08, 2012 — I own a copy

So besides screaming YOU MUST READ...how can I best entice you to sample Richard Morgan’s excellent, highly original, fantasy science fiction genre-busting series?
 
Well, since name dropping never hurts…
 
Start with prose that is dramatic, philosophically-inclined and ornately descriptive, in the spirit of Dune...juxtapose it with the crisp, trope-thrashing subversion of Joe Abercrombie…inject enough graphic depictions of violence and sex to give even George R. R. Martin pause…and submerge it all into one of the most intriguing dying earth settings since Jack Vance wrote what’s it called.

It’s polished, intelligent, and chalk full of inventiveness and ultra violence. I really liked it...a lot.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, let me state for the record that I've been a rabid fan of every novel Richard Morgan’s written. Thus, my accolade dump is coming from the perspective of someone who has definitely drunk the kool-aid when it comes to this guy being a special talent. 
 
With that, let me start by saying that this second volume of Morgan's Land Fit for Heroes series is NOT perfect. The pace is too slow, the POV threads are unevenly developed, and not much in the way of plot progression actually happens. It’s all a set up for the next book, and that may disappoint some.

But not me...not really...though it did keep me from giving it a 5th star.  

While I would have preferred a bit more forward movement, what Morgan gives us instead is a good deal of character fleshing out, a healthy dose of backstory/world-building that is pure gold (more on that below), and a significant escalation of the stakes involved for our principal players, ramping up the drama for what promises to be a kick ass book 3. For the most part, this was just fine with me, because Morgan’s visionary world and his palpably violent vibe are so engaging that I didn’t mind just hanging out in his playground taking in whatever he wanted to show me. 
 
I'm going to forego a plot summary because the dust jacket does an adequate job, and I want to avoid spoilers for those who haven't read book 1...yet. Instead, I’ll just gush a bit Morgan’s mad skills.
 
The Prose:
 
Morgan has a knack for whisking the reader (this reader anyway) very quickly into his world. His descriptions conjure stark images in my imagination's visual feed that allow me complete immersion into his story.

In addition, he’s able to deploy his talented word-smithing in a variety of different ways. He can be breezy and lyrical when he’s providing decoration to the narrative:
The tree branched low, not much over head height for a human, and spread intricately tangled limbs upward and out—a dispersal derived not, Archeth knew, from any sculptor’s observation or skill, but from certain mathematical musings her father’s people had incubated in the hearts of their machines like song.
He can also pump up the adrenaline when he wants to get his anger on while blasting fantasy cliches to shreds:  
Well than try giving it some thought, why don’t you? Apply that finely tutored mind of yours to all those bullshit hero-with-a-high-destiny legends you people are so fucking fond of telling one another. You really think, in a mudball slaughterhouse of a world like this, where war and privation harden whole populations to inhuman brutality and ignorance, where the ruling classes dedicate their sons to learning the science of killing men the way they consign their daughters to breeding till they crack--you really think the gods of a world like that have got no better thing to do with their time than take some random piece of lowborn trash and spend long years carving him into shape for a cat’s-paw?
Mostly, however, his prose is just a blast to read, and it rubs and stimulates the neurons responsible for warming my cockles.

The World Building:

The world Morgan has created/is creating is like a dense, vibrant onion. What started out as gritty, subversive, epic fantasy setting has morphed into something very science fictional, with alien races, advanced technology, and ancient civilizations fighting massive wars with unimaginable weapons. There are even hints, not yet fully divulged, that this world may be connected to Morgan’s SF novels (please, please, please let it be so).

Regardless, the world building has become something that is bordering on the truly elite, and is certainly among the most compelling that I’ve encountered recently. Who knows, by the time Morgan wraps the series, it may find a place among the giants of speculative fiction.

Yes, it has the potential to be that good. 
 
In sum, this second installment suffers a bit from “middle volume” syndrome, but has enough of the outstanding going for it to make it an easy recommendation. This series is dark, gory and you won’t find any white hats populating the pages. But if you don’t mind grim, and love unique, intelligent stories with plenty of bloodshed...you’ve come to the right place.

4.0 to 4.5 stars. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!
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Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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message 1: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten I really liked The Steel Remains. It is nice to have your reassurance that the 2nd one holds up. Of course I loved all his earlier books as well.


Stephen Jeffrey, the expansion of the backstory and the introduction of the SF elements is enough to make this worth reading. I really like what Morgan is doing with the story.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

This one is in my TBR pile.....I haven't read anything that Morgan has written that I didn't like. Definitely one of my favorite authors.


Stephen John, if you are a fan a Morgan's work I can't see you not liking this. How much you enjoy it may depend on how much the lack of overall plot movement bothers you. For me, I think the broadening of the backstory and the character development makes up for that.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Stephen wrote: "John, if you are a fan a Morgan's work I can't see you not liking this. How much you enjoy it may depend on how much the lack of overall plot movement bothers you. For me, I think the broadening of..."

I don't think I'll have much of a problem with it. I LOVED The Steel Remains, so I've been itching to continue the story.


message 6: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus you really think the gods of a world like that have got no better thing to do with their time than take some random piece of lowborn trash and spend long years carving him into shape for a cat’s-paw?

Bitch-slap that trope, Morgan!

Fanboy Gush, Esq., was a happy happy camper, eh what?


Stephen Twas a trope bitch-slapping of much severity.


message 8: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Certainly looked like it. Go Richard Morgan! Fight the good fight!


Stephen He is among my elite favorites in terms of never failing to entertain me. His political rhetoric in the Takeshi Kovacs series is awesome.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Stephen wrote: "He is among my elite favorites in terms of never failing to entertain me. His political rhetoric in the Takeshi Kovacs series is awesome."

I totally agree.


Contrarius You may be pleased to hear that Morgan is considering writing a total of 4 books in this series, rather than 3. As of a coupla days ago, he didn't seem to have his mind made up yet. I say the more, the merrier!

I don't especially like the Kovacs books -- at least, I see big problems with them. But I LOVE these. :)


message 12: by Megan (new)

Megan Excellent review this series is definitely going on my to-read list!


message 13: by Jurgen_i (last edited May 08, 2012 01:31PM) (new)

Jurgen_i Stephen wrote: "Well, since name dropping never hurts…"

It hurts, Stephen, you should just stop reading. I haven't heard about Jack Vance. Although you are confusing me, thanks for the name.

Stephen wrote: "In sum, this second installment suffers a bit from “middle volume” syndrome"

And thanks for another book disease, i'm collecting them. This particular is exactly one i was looking for to give the diagnosis to Redemption Ark. I hope, you won't mind using it in review.
Good review!


Stephen Contrarius wrote: "You may be pleased to hear that Morgan is considering writing a total of 4 books in this series, rather than 3."

Great to hear. I agree, the more the merrier.

Contrarius wrote: "I don't especially like the Kovacs books -- at least, I see big problems with them."

You have me curious. What are your issues with the Kovacs books?


Stephen Megan wrote: "Excellent review this series is definitely going on my to-read list!"

Thanks, Megan. I hope you love it.


Stephen Jurgen_i wrote: "Stephen wrote: "Well, since name dropping never hurts…"

It hurts, Stephen, you should just stop reading. I haven't heard about Jack Vance. Although you are confusing me, thanks for the name."


Vance wrote a novel called
The Dying Earth which is where the term "dying earth" came from when used to denote a certain kind of science fiction. He is a favorite author of mine.


Chelsea Awesome, loved Steel Remains, and I was hoping this would be as epic.


message 18: by Markus (new) - added it

Markus Must read this soon so the screaming ('YOU MUST READ ME') from my shelf stops. Good review, as usual.


Contrarius Stephen wrote: "You have me curious. What are your issues with the Kovacs books?"

Some of them are easy to specify, others less so.

First and most fundamental, the whole idea of personality/self being transferable makes me want to throw the book across the room. Personality/self-hood is not just data; at the very least, it's a meshing of data/experience/memory with the biology (structure, hormones, neural pathways, general chemistry, etc.) of a particular body. So the "self" that would exist in one body would be very different from the "self" that would exist in a second body. Ergo, you can't blithely transfer "people" from body to body and expect them to be recognizable from one to the other, no matter how good your data storage is.

Second, there's general literary stuff that I don't especially like about them. Which would probably take much too long to explain in a restricted venue like this. ;)


Stephen Thanks for explaining and I can see that of the whole re-sleaving concept bothers you it could put a downer on the series. I actually really enjoy that aspect and like how Morgan incorporated the concept into the attitudes of his characters (I.e., more reckless, less constrained my moral considerations, etc.).


message 21: by Wesley (new)

Wesley Excellent review, I've never heard of these books, I shall check them out.


Contrarius Stephen wrote: "Thanks for explaining and I can see that of the whole re-sleaving concept bothers you it could put a downer on the series. I actually really enjoy that aspect and like how Morgan incorporated the c..."

Yeah, for me it just destroys any suspension of disbelief. I know too much about that particular subject to let it slide -- in the same way that cops often hate to read books that ignore real police procedures, or doctors laugh at TV shows that dream up medical impossibilities. In fact, almost exactly like doctors laughing at those TV shows. ;)

btw -- I had the same problem with Old Man's War, which uses a similar conceit.


message 23: by Jurgen_i (new)

Jurgen_i Stephen wrote: "Vance wrote a novel called
The Dying Earth which is where the term "dying earth" came from when used to denote a certain kind of science fiction. He is a favorite author of mine."


Thanks for recommendation, seems to be a very interesting book.


message 24: by Robin (new)

Robin Edman As always, an excellent review. I got a little tired of Takeshi Kovacs by the time Mr. Morgan finished with him, so I was going to give this series a pass (as I get older, my attention span is shrinking, and those books were just too long for me). You have me re-thinking this decision. So, thank you.


Stephen Thanks, Robin. If you decide to give it a go, I hope you like it. It certainly has Morgan's style running through it, but is a much different story than the Kovacs series.


Contrarius Robin wrote: "As always, an excellent review. I got a little tired of Takeshi Kovacs by the time Mr. Morgan finished with him, so I was going to give this series a pass (as I get older, my attention span is shr..."

IMHO these are very, very different from his sf. From the reviews I've read, it appears that many of his sf fans don't like these at all -- so don't think of them as just more of the same.


message 27: by Gary (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gary I cannot but concur, Sir! Just as with all his previous books I loved this one from the first sentence - more please...


Stephen Yes...Morganites unite!!


message 29: by Greg (new)

Greg Engels thanks for a great review. I just bought both Abercrobie', The Heroes and Morgan's Cold Commands. I love both authors - do you have a favorite?

I will add Jack Vance to my list.


message 30: by Riki (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riki So dude, I'm reading book 3 now, but do you have recommendations for books this gritty? I read Altered Carbon a while back, but it didn't do much for me, certainly nothing like this series did. I didn't hate it, in fact I gave it 4 stars, but it never grabbed me, so I'm not sure I really want to re-read it again to remember everything before reading the sequels.


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