A while ago, Richard Morgan announced that for his next novel he'd be making something of a departure from the high-octane, adrenaline-fulled action-sf that has become the hall-mark of his five novels to-date, and would be setting out in a new direction; embarking on a work of epic fantasy. Switching genres tends to be an unusual move for a UK-based author, so this is a development that we've been keeping our eye on with interest.
His UK publisher, Gollancz Books, has just released a page or two of teaser text into the wild which suggests that, far from turning his back on his hallmark dark, gritty, visceral prose and themes of conspiracy, betrayal, honour and retribution, he'll be bringing the same worldview that characterises his Takeshi Kovacs and Karl Marsalis works to bear on his new subject matter... with what could turn out to be extremely interesting results, as far as this dark, gritty, epic / heroic fantasy fan is concerned.
Both Gollancz and Richard Morgan himself have very kindly given us permission to replicate the entire passage of aforementioned teaser text here and please do feel free to mention to what degree you feel suitably teased, via the comments section:
Ringil, Archeth and Egar - Comrades in Arms
What do you do when an evil arises in the West, and you stand and fight, and throw it back into the sea it's come from – and then watch as your victory gets pissed away in naked political opportunism, squalid border disputes and brutal ethnic cleansing? What do you do when, in the absence of anything decent left to fight for, the same internal desperation and rage that sent you screaming up against those suicidal odds a decade and a half ago starts instead to tear you apart from within? What do you do when you're a hero to anyone who doesn't know you, and a corrupt degenerate to anyone who does, and nowhere that resembles home can ever accept you back as you really are?
Simple – you go back to the shit-hole mountain town you once saved from destruction, back to where the thin lie of your heroism is just about coin enough to buy tolerance for your degenerate urges. And there you hide.
Which Ringil Eskiath, scarred hero of Gallows Gap and wielder of the kiriath blade Ravensfriend in the war against the Scaled Folk, has been doing ever since he walked away from the post-war mess. Too bad, then, that a family member has come calling with an offer he can't refuse, a job only he can do, and a chance to crank himself back up to the same pitch of fury and purpose that sustained him like a drug all those years ago. Too bad because it's a thankless task, not one he especially wants or even believes he has much chance of carrying to a successful end. But the truth is, as he's forced to admit, to himself if no-one else, he really doesn't have anything much better to do, right now or at any other foreseeable time in what remains of his hollowed-out life. It'll be good to have something to fight for again, and if it kills him, well, it won't much matter.
- - - -
Drug problem, war veteran nerves, general sense of failure and loss? Absolutely no faith in the current fuck-up son of the ruling dynasty you're supposed to owe allegiance to? No family, no friends, no-one you can really trust anymore – and a job you hate and don't really know how to do? Welcome to the life at court of the lady kir-Archeth Indamaninarmal, abandoned kiriath half-breed, and last remaining advisor to the Yhelteth Empire on an equally abandoned kiriath technology she only half-way understands herself.
A decade and a half ago, she came home from the war against the Scaled Folk as disillusioned as most of her comrades from the faltering human alliance, and with some of the same damage. But beyond that, she at least believed the Empire had been worth saving. Now, as the new Emperor squanders his father's legacy, as a new priestly caste arises to preach holy war and ethnic ascendancy against Yhelteth's neighbours, and as everyone at court trades in governmental concern for paranoia and self preservation, she's having a hard time remembering why she ever cared one way or the other.
Which makes her a far from ideal candidate to take charge of the investigation when a new and apparently sorcerous enemy begins making violent inroads on the Empire's borders. Then again, ideal or not, she's the only one even remotely qualified for the job.
- - - -
And then there's Egar. Egar the steppe nomad, Egar the Barbarian – or at least he would be, if he could just forget what it was like to have once lived in a place with decent cuisine, hot water bathing and clean shaves; what it was like to learn to read and write, and find it not only useful but surprisingly enjoyable; what it was like to fight as a mercenary for the reputedly decadent but really quite civilised Yhelteth Empire, what it was like to bring down a dragon for them single-handed in the war against the Scaled Folk – and end up an imperial citizen in good standing for his trouble.
Those things are gone now, dropped back over the steppe's horizon to the south where he first found them. Ekar the Dragonbane has come back home to his people in triumph a rich man, a respected warrior and a natural choice for tribal chief. But a decade on, the triumph is wearing a little thin; he can't settle, his fellow Majak herdsmen are driving him up a guy rope with their superstitions and their ignorance and their general lack of interest in anything but the world they know – and above all he could really, really use a hot-water shave.
Fortunately, Egar won't be stuck here much longer with these exercises in nostalgia. Rivalries within the Majak are stirring, and out on the steppe, the Majak chief's enemies have found allies of no human kind. If he wants to survive the confrontation that's on its way, Egar's going to have to swallow a life-time of instinct and run long before.
- - - -
These three erstwhile comrades in arms will find themselves flung back together again as the hard fought and soured peace they helped to win is brought once again to the brink of war. Dark, unnatural forces are stirring, an ancient order has been summoned back to life and something very unpleasant is coming to call.