The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan

The problem with reading high fantasy novels as they’re being published — or at least my problem — is that it’s very easy to forget what’s going on from one book to the next. I read the first two books of Richard K. Morgan’s A Land Fit For Heros series two summers ago. I enjoyed them a lot. I also forgot a lot about them in the years since the concluding volume The Dark Defiles was released.

The central premise of the series is great — at some point before the books start there was a big war against invading aliens. Our main characters all fought in these battles, racking up heroic deeds and the trauma that goes along with that. Now they’re older, and poorly settled into more mundane lives. At first we just see their dissatisfaction, but as the tale goes on we see more of the scars they’re stuck with. They’re trying to have settle down and have a happy ending, but it isn’t working.

So of course they get swept up in another adventure. And it’s quite an adventure. I really liked the first one, and I enjoyed the second, but the conclusion didn’t sit right with me. It got a little bit too tangled. It felt too relentlessly grim-dark. At first the cynicism felt fresh, a more nuanced way of playing out swords and sorcery tropes. But it starts getting boring, and unnecessary.

It wasn’t a satisfying ending. Morgan actually did something really amazing — he spent hundreds of pages making me care about these characters — and then he ended it on an ending that felt thoroughly empty. Not even unsatisfying in a way that I’m angry about — just bored and a little bit annoyed. I really like the central premise of the series. Along the way there’s some interesting world building, and some great characters. But at the end it doesn’t add up to much.

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