Review: The Cold Commands

Posted: January 3, 2012 by in Books that are Mediocre (3/5 single_star) Meta: Richard K. Morgan, Dark Fantasy

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.

What a truly disappointing task it is to write a mediocre review for a highly anticipated sequel like THE COLD COMMANDS that just didn't cut the mustard.

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


  • maria says:

    Nooo! I was really looking forward to this. (And it was an expensive book! Maybe I should get it from the library and return the copy I just bought and haven't started yet…!) I read Morgan's blog a few times while I was waiting for this one, and I know he struggled with this book…sounded for a while like he didn't really want to write it at all, and maybe it shows.

  • Mark C says:

    I'm a fan of RM's sci fi and have never been a huge fan of fantasy but, I have to say, The Steel Remains and The Cold Commands have me hooked. The Cold Commands may even be Richard Morgan's best, in my opinion…


  • maria says:

    Ok, what I really said, was…I finally got around to reading the book, and I have to agree with Mark C. Loved it. It did feel like a “middle” book, but I didn't find that it dragged, and all the threads came together nicely at the end as I knew they had to. Looking forward to the next one.

  • David de Graaff says:

    I think it's a waste of time to get hung up on all the technical aspects of the story. POV and this charachter wasn't developed enough and I would have liked to see more of and the author doesn't – and on and on … It has to do with > Did You Enjoy Reading The Books? AB-SO-LUTE-LY!You can be a literary expert or have a university degree in grammar, but respectable publishers don't waste $ on publishing grammatical and structural garbage. So, as always, it's a matter of taste – what grabs your attention. My 2 cents worth. Read on – DB The Netherlands

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