This is going to sound like a total cop-out and the worst description ever, but if I had to explain this book it would simply be a “modern fantasy.”
It’s full of the world-building tropes (maps! magical swords! creepy demons!) that keep us coming back to the genre, but written in a style that hasn’t impressed me this much since I first read Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy.
There is swearing. Lots of it. There is blood. Lots of it. There is fucking. Lots of it. (See where I’m going with this?)
I know this has sort of fallen out of fashion lately, but I’m still a big fan of grimdark fantasy, and this novel easily fits into that camp. You get that bleak feeling of old soldiers who are good at their jobs, but are jaded and fed up with the killing. It reminds me of Erikson in how it explores the true nature and brutality of war.
Yes, there is violence, but it doesn’t revel in it. It is graphically explicit to make a point for the opposing view.
And speaking of…the fight scenes are fairly accurate, if my swordplay training has taught me anything. Richard K. Morgan has handled a few feet of steel in his time, and it wonderfully informs the writing.
These are the battle scenes I want to read about. Messy. Brutal. Unfair. Realistic. But always—always—fucking awesome.
Also, the protagonist is gay and it’s a big feature of the story, but I haven’t made up my mind if I like how the author treated this aspect of the book (though I’m leaning towards yes). I’ll let you read it and come to your own conclusions.
If you’re not squeamish, and you can appreciate epic badassery, I encourage you to give this book a shot.
My only complaints are that there are a few too many in-scene flashbacks, and that sometimes The Steel Remains toes the line of dudebro fantasy, threatening to cross over without quite managing it.
But if bloody and sweary Fantasy is what you’re looking for, try this—you’re in for a treat.