Thursday, May 01, 2008

Review: Broken Angels

If Altered Carbon was Richard Morgan's take on Philip Marlowe and Chandler's novels, then Broken Angels (kindle edition) was his take on Aliens. On second thought, it's a combination of the first two Alien movies.

In this novel, we explore the nature of Morgan's setting for the Takeshi Kovacs novels. It turns out that almost all the technology advances we're seeing in the novels is a result of a legacy left behind by a long dead Martian civilization. The details are not revealed, but apparently these were winged creatures who lived in cities only out of necessity, and had technology that humans still did not comprehend.

Our protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, is caught up in a war, complete with the war-weariness and a desire to get out when he is approached by a young man selling that war remedy, the get-rich-quick scheme. The scheme involved recovering a Martian artifact whose implications would shatter the world humans have built. Kovacs, despite his Envoy training, gives in to his desire to get out of the war by any means necessary, and throws his lot in with the scheme. He first breaks out an archaeologist analogue from a concentration scheme (the first broken Angel), brokers a deal with one of the corporations responsible for the war, and then helps put together an expedition consisting of special operations personnel.

Of course, things are not what they seem on the surface, and by the end of the novel, we've seen multiple betrayals, intuitive detective work by Kovacs, plenty of sex and violence (much more of the latter than the former), and a number of loose ends tied up, with Kovacs getting his wish to leave the war. The violence is explicit --- if any parents were concerned about their kids' exposure to violence in video games, I think they need to keep their kids away from this novel --- Morgan's control over his sentences are such that the violence, when it happens, is just as shocking as it would be in any visual media.

There are plenty of scenes in this novel that are beautiful and well done, such as the visit to the soul market, where dead soldiers and their encapsulated souls can be bought by the pound. Then there's the sense of wonder when Kovacs and his team enters the Alien artifact. Make no mistake of it --- Morgan is as good a writer as any. My complaint here is that while there was a sense of redemption in Altered Carbon, there's no such thing in Broken Angels. But that's perhaps in character with the bleak nature of the novel. If you have the stomach, Broken Angels is definitely worth the read.

In any case, Morgan has me hooked. I bought the next book in the series, Woken Furies.
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