The Dark Defiles is the third and final novel of A Land Fit for Heroes, which has the interesting quality of being the first grimdark story that I recognized. I'd read A Song of Ice and Fire and The Witcher beforehand but it was the excerpt from this book which convinced me I wanted to explore the genre more fully. In the story except, Egar Dragonsbane beats a bunch of randy soldiers senseless for interrupting his brothel time.
I'm not going to lie: I have issues with the way Richard K. Morgan's series progress. I love his work as a whole but he seems to have serious issues following up on his initial story points. I loved Altered Carbon, disliked Broken Angels, and felt ambivalent about Woken Furies. I have a similar feeling about this trilogy having loved The Steel Remains, enjoyed the Cold Commands, and really hated this book until the final quarter. Indeed, it took me months to finish this novel and if anyone has ever read my reviews, you know I can usually plow through the thickest doorstoppers in a week.
Part of this is the first three-quarters of the manuscript have nothing to do with the pressing questions of the series: who are the dwenda, what happened to the Kiriath, what about Ringil's relationship to his family, will the insane Caligula ruler of the Divine Throne be overthrown, and so on. Instead, there's an epic treasure quest which satirizes the typical Lord of the RIngs quests by having the heroes getting themselves lost and having no clue where to go for the majority of the trip. Which is funny when it's a chapter or two and boring when it's most of the book.
The book finally picks up near the end with characters dying, epic battles between humanity and the dwenda, answers to all of our questions, and a good idea of where the world is going to be going in the next few centuries. It has a Michael Moorcock "*** the Gods!" sort of feel, too, which I'm not much of a fan of since I find the idea of humans telling destiny to screw itself off self-entitled since if you can tell destiny off then it's not much of a destiny to begin with, is it? Certainly, too much of the book is spent on Ringil telling the Dark Court (the local pantheon) off and you can guess any action he's going to take by asking, "Did a god tell him to do the opposite?"
I also have to say much of the book depended on Egar as comic relief. He seems to be the only character who is having any fun in the story and seems to accept the world as is. Both Ringil and Archeth are Byronic heroes who loathe the world as it is. This is fine given the world sucks but their constant never-ending contempt for the way civilization is and the people inside went so far past grimdark it went around to Gene Roddenberry. "Oh, why must we be surrounded by such a disgusting race that is humanity?" Yeesh, you'd think both of them would catch a clue they're jerkasses themselves.
Did I find the ending satisfying? Yes, mostly. I found the idea of a conspiracy to put Archeth on the throne less interesting than the author did. Archeth is a haughty, self-absorbed, frankly racist elf who I only realized is supposed to be considered a moral paragon. It's kind of like Terry Goodkind's books where I only realized I wasn't reading a parody deconstruction of fantasy heroes about halfway through. Likewise, the book loses a lot of energy whenever Egar isn't on page and what happens to him costs the book dearly. Still, I have to say Ringil got as good an ending as any grimdark hero.
Richard K. Morgan is at his best whenever he is doing shocking scenes, torture, and nasty betrayals of what we expect from our heroes. Whenever Ringil is killing slavers, insulting dwenda, or murdering the hell out of people like an NC-17 rated version of the Punisher--the book is very good. The same with Egar making fun of Archeth for being horrified at the soldiers beating up the villagers when she's done nothing but sit in her tent and sulk the entire time versus leading them. Character moments carry the novel. Unfortunately, there's also a lot of magical A.I. and gods talking down at our hero which sinks the narrative like a stone.
There's something to say about Richard K. Morgan: he finished his series. A Land Fit for Heroes wraps itself up in this novel. We find out what happens to every character, the world, and all of the major plots are resolved. With so many other books artificially extended or having uncertain futures, it's nice to have a book which really does answer all of the questions which needed answering. Unfortunately, it required a lot of filler to get to that point when the book could have been a 1/3rd less its size and lost nothing but padding.