Review: The Cold Commands
What a truly disappointing task it is to write a mediocre review for a highly anticipated sequel. I finished reading Richard K. Morgan‘s THE STEEL REMAINS (EBR Review) a short time ago. The book had some rough edges that needed some buffering but it was a promising start to series by a well established author. I read the book as quickly as possible so that I could start THE COLD COMMANDS (Amazon) the moment it arrived. Sadly, this is one sequel that left me unfulfilled. This review contains some things readers may consider SPOILERS, so please read at your own risk.
This is from the Amazon product description of The Cold Commands: “An expedition is outfitted for the long and arduous sea journey to find the lost island of the Illwrack Changeling. Aboard are Gil, Egar, and Archeth: each fleeing from ghosts of the past, each seeking redemption in whatever lies ahead. But redemption doesn’t come cheap these days. Nor, for that matter, does survival. Not even for Ringil Eskiath. Or anyone–god or mortal–who would seek to use him as a pawn.”
Here is the problem. This expedition? This expedition never gets under way. In fact the expedition is never even outfitted. Shoot, it’s two hundred pages into the book before the purpose of the expedition is brought to light. Afterward a group of expeditionaries is assembled but nothing else comes to pass, leaving readers to assume that this expedition will be part of the third novel. This is the biggest problem with the novel. At the start you can feel the momentum, the characters being guided toward this plot beacon. And as the pages fly by the characters only seem to creep closer by the inch. The gun is introduced in the first act but forgotten about completely by the third it seems. As I got closer and closer to the end I found myself imagining the cast of Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail screaming “GET ON WITH IT!”
Like the last novel I found Ringil and Archeth’s perspectives to be the most compelling while Egar’s story failed to hold my interest. Sadly Ringil’s perspective seemed to flounder during this novel as well. Ringil starts out with a bang, rescuing slaves and killing evil doers. But then he winds up in the Gray Places, and his perspective loses focus. The real gem of THE COLD COMMANDS is Archeth. Once again I found myself enthusiastically waiting for her chapters, eager to learn even the smallest bits about the Kiriath or the Helmsmen. The are some new supporting characters introduced but there is no real effort to develop them any further than their direct relationships with the main POV’s.
The best part of this series to date has to be Morgan’s inclusion of science fiction elements into this fantasy world. The Kiriath and their technology, specifically the mysterious Helmsmen are intriguing. Unfortunately the horrifying Aldrain have a limited presence in the novel, even if their machinations are clearly going on in the background. My favorite overall moment of the story is when the Helmsman responsible for delivering the warning to Archeth and the Empire explains the earliest history of the world and the origins of the Kiriath/Aldrain conflict. More of this would have been welcomed.
The novel is not completely without pros. Ringil is, as ever, a fascinating character. Fans of the genre are unlikely to find an anti-hero as unique as Ringil Angeleyes. As ever, Morgan’s anger and sharp wit is at play. Fundamentalist religion takes a heavy hit, as does imperialism. The forces of the world are painted in shades of black. There is darkness in the world and Morgan does not shy away from violence and more controversial issues. THE COLD COMMANDS is not a bad novel. Richard K. Morgan is a highly skilled writer, especially when it comes to dialogue. That said, THE COLD COMMANDS strikes me as irrelevant, a prime example of “middle book syndrome.” The stage is set for the third book in the series, but this installment seems superfluous. I’ll go ahead and buy THE DARK DEFILES, but I’ll be more careful with my expectations.
- Recommended Age: 17+
- Language: Plenty of strong language and creative cursing
- Violence: Blood and gore in spades, not for the squeamish
- Sex: Several explicit scenes, heterosexual and homosexual in nature. There is also a rape scene very early on