The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan
(A Land Fit For Heroes #2)
Ringil Eskiath, scarred wielder of the kiriath-forged broadsword Ravensfriend, is a man on the run from his past and the family who have disowned him, from the slave trade magnates of Trelayne who want him dead, and apparently from the dark gods themselves, who are taking an interest but making no more sense than they ever have. Outlawed and exiled from his ancestral home in the north, Ringil has only one place left to turn Yhelteth, city heart of the southern Empire, where perhaps he can seek asylum with the kiriath half-breed Archeth Indamaninarmal, former war comrade and now high-up advisor to the Emperor Jhiral Khimran II. But Archeth Indamaninarmal has problems of her own to contend with, as does her house guest, bodyguard and one time steppe nomad Egar the Dragonbane. And far from gaining the respite he is seeks, Ringil will instead find himself implicated in fresh schemes and doubtful allegiances no safer than those he has left behind. Old enemies are stirring, the old order is rotted through and crumbling, and though no-one yet knows it, the city of Yhelteth is about to explode.
This was a wonderfully written book, as I expected it would be from my experience reading The Steel Remains. The world building is lush yet realistic, full of pain and filth nothing even close to rainbows and butterflies. I love it even more for that.
It starts off slow, a lot slower than The Steel Remains. For a while I was wondering where it was all heading until I decided to just go with it. I do prefer the faster pace of the first book, but the pacing in The Cold Commands allowed for more character introspection and development.
Ringil is broken and cares for very little in the world except his two friends...and maybe his sword. He'll do anything and use anyone in order to get what he wants. Sometimes he walks a very thin line between honor and cruelty.
Egar is sick of living a soft life, he wants a good fight and a good death. He wants a woman he can't have and to feel like he used to when he was younger.
I don't think Archeth knows what she wants, except answers to where her people went and why she was left behind.
It's not a pretty story, though the prose is beautifully written. The overall feeling of the book is hopeless and dark, with maybe a glimmer of light here and there.
I love the characters Mr. Morgan has given us. They are world-weary and sick of everything and everyone. And bored. It's a bad idea for somewhat-heroic warriors to get bored. The result is a lot of bloodshed and some pissed-off officials. And lots of swearing.
They have seen and done terrible things that would give weaker men (and women) nightmares, but they just shrug it off. Their age is fast catching up with them. Ringil and Egar both realize that their bodies can't put up with the abuse like they used to be able to, but they barrel through with grim determination.
Both men are the very definition of anti-heroes. Archeth isn't much better, though her personality is usually held in check with an iron will.
I had a lot of fun reading this. I'd recommend the series to anyone who loves an anti-hero and some great fight scenes and gore. And very inventive swearing.
4 out of 5 stars