Richard Morgan – Broken Angels

When writing a series there are three approaches. In most cases there is one central storyline. There may be partial storylines to give each novel a sort of beginning and ending.  The less used approach is using the same main protagonist to tell different stories in different settings while the universe it takes place in is the same. The even less used and third approach is doing the second approach without using the same main protagonist. Of course there are no clear boundaries between the approaches.

Richard Morgan is using the second approach for his science fiction series around the mercenary (or free agent) Takeshi Kovacs. The first novel, Altered Carbon, was a pure detective crime noir, albeit filled with a lot of violence. Broken Angels (2003), the second novel, is more of an expedition novel. The setting is very different as it takes place on a world devastated by a brutal war. Our main protagonist has been involved in that war and seeing the expedition as a more interesting opportunity.

Unfortunately Morgan’s choice is in my opinion the wrong one. He could have written a nasty and brutal story about the war that is only visible on the background. I can only assume that there are plenty of such stories already written. He uses it only to complicate matters.

That does not explain why the expedition story is wrong. The main reason is that it is too longwinded with little excitement. There is a bit of excitement in the beginning of the story when Kovacs seeks a way to set up the expedition according to their wishes. Once that is done the tale bogs down into details and minor stories about secondary characters who from the beginning do not seem to be of much importance. The expedition progresses very slowly. Morgan adds in a bunch of complications but from the beginning I was only looking forward to the goal of the expedition, not the journey, which was essentially not much of a journey in the traditional sense anyways. Traditionally the journey is what drives the story or, what I expected, the goal of the journey would drive most of the story. The expedition would thus reach its goal before or around halfway of the novel after which the story would be driven by the outcome of the expedition. Morgan however drags the expedition on to more than three quarters of the novel. What happens after does takes things in a very different direction than expected. Morgan does seem to be very good at strong finales as he ends the novel in a good way.

The characterization if fairly well done. The main protagonist has lived a long life so there is much to explore. The rest of the group of characters seem to be too many as Morgan tries to give each of them some depth so that in the end I had not succeeded in connecting with them. As mentioned before they seemed of less importance to the story so my interest in them was not as high as it might have been. Strangely enough the character that seems to be the more mysterious one in the beginning remains rather superficial.

Overall Broken Angels does not deliver. The long central part was somewhat dull compared to the bright sparks of the good start and the strong finale. I didn’t connect that well to the group of characters which are present in most of the novel. The cast was much more constrained than that of Altered Carbon and should have provided better opportunities to give them a presence. In this case the dull central story is far less effective than the many alternating strong scenes of Altered Carbon. The plot of Broken Angels is simply too thin and long to be carried only by solid writing. The novel itself is still recommendable and an entertaining read. Compared to Altered Carbon it just seems rather weak. That does not mean I have gotten dulled by this second novel of the series. The universe it takes place in is very interesting and there is still much to explore. The main protagonist remains unique and the connection with him is ever strong.

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