Richard Morgan – The Cold Commands

The Cold Commands (2011) by Richard Morgan is the sequel to The Steel Remains, a sword and sorcery style fantasy in the tradition of David Gemmell and Joe Abercrombie with a bit more magic and some hidden science fiction elements. I was pleasantly surprised by The Steel Remains so I eagerly awaited to arrival of The Cold Commands.

The novel is not exactly a sequel. Some time has passed and the events of The Steel Remains had a limited impact on the plot development. The plot is rather detached, leading to a story that would manage well enough as a standalone novel. There are some minor references that would spark the reader’s interest for the first book while overall the new situations are different enough to not require more explanation than a regular background hint. I had forgotten most of what had happened before and I didn’t feel much need to get back to it. Nevertheless the lack of memory does provide me with a good excuse to read The Steel Remains again.

Because The Cold Commands works as a standalone novel it has the problem that it is starting up again as Morgan develops new storylines. He does not really have to reintroduce the characters, although the new reader will fairly quickly be up-to-date with who they are in the greater scheme of things. The thing is that he doesn’t continue the story of The Steel Remains and this causing him a lot of time to set up the new storylines. There are three of them and to me it felt he needed too much time to tell his story. Afterwards I took them apart and could only conclude that individually not much had happened for them, only by regularly switching between them the reader would still feel satisfied. It is a problem I noted with a number of fantasy novels which lacked sufficient plot development and the writer needed too many words (without the reader ever being annoyed as the prose is ever good) to tell his story. When the book came close to the end I suddenly awoke and realized that it was already done and I hadn’t seen much yet. Even with the feeling that it could be a standalone novel I hadn’t enjoyed it to the same extent as The Steel Remains. It was at that point that the story turned and got an unexpected big climax. So I was satisfied while I would have liked to see more of it earlier and not the slowly building and entwining of the different storylines.

The storylines themselves contain a number of surprising twists which were interesting or fun. It allowed a certain measure of unpredictability which I like and which causes this series to be put on my Wanted List. The three main characters are not all that original, but are quite amusing and have their own style which distinguishes them.

In the beginning I named Gemmell and Abercrombie as references to the style of this series. That has not changed with this novel. Those who like them will certainly enjoy this novel greatly. There aren’t that many layers and the complexity remains within a bound frame, giving enough the pleasure while not giving the reader something too hard to bit through. I enjoyed it for certain, although (for now) it will not be among my personal favorites. It’s good stuff and not all books have to be more than that. Recommended.

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