Briefly, A Land Fit For Heroes is a three-book series of Grim Dark fantasy novels by the author Richard K. Morgan, who also wrote the Takeshi Kovacs books - a Grim Dark scifi trilogy which is being worked into a TV series.
The series comprises the books The Steel Remains, The Cold Commands, and The Dark Defiles. It is set on a world which we're told is 'Earth' - but it's not clear whether that's just a generic 'home world' name, or if it's *the* Earth. This is a bit relevant, because this series ends up being one of those which does a good job of making use of Arthur C. Clarke's 'sufficiently advanced technology' trope with gleeful abandon. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
There are three protagonists to this series, really, and all three show up in all three books. The books are a relatively continuous storyline, with minimum time passing in the interregnums. Ringil Eskiath is the first one we meet. Ringil, we are told, is a Hero; a War Hero, even. Nicknamed 'Angeleyes', he's a handsome noble scion who went to defend humanity in the Great War some years past. In that conflict, the bickering human polities of the World joined forces, briefly, to fend off an incursion of the Lizard Folk - reptilian invaders, moving in from the sea. Ringil is an accomplished warrior, who carries a famed and named broadsword he calls the Ravensfriend (a drastic shortening of its true name*). He also, we learn, dabbled in writing military theory; he led men in the war as a commander, and he is famed for his work at a critical turning point battle called the Battle of Gallows Gap, a desperate last stand defense which successfully blocked the lizard invasion from breaking free into the human rear areas.
That last phrase is apropos. Ringil is presently, at the start of the story, living in a backwater town and surviving on his tales as a veteran, sometimes doing very minor work as a blade for...well, not hire, really. See, Ringil couldn't really go home to his noble family, because he's (as the book insists on him calling himself, and his friends calling him) a faggot. In this grim world, especially when The Temple exerts as much power in the Empire as it does, there is no room for homosexuality in men, at least not openly. As a result, he's a bit of an outcast, living on that edge where most people he deals with are too afraid of him to call him out on it, and those more powerful than he usually willing to overlook it so long as he's discreet - but always looking to use it against him. The books spend more time on graphic descriptions of homosexual encounters than heterosexual ones, despite there being no shortage of barbarians and wenches. Ringil isn't sure what his future is, but his present is one of somewhat empty survival, and he misses his old comrades.
The first of those comrades is a Majak steppe tribesman (read: barbarian) named Egar the Dragonbane. He has that title because in that past war, he, Ringil and their comrade kir-Archeth Indamaninarmal killed a dragon - one of the huge clutch-mother beasts that anchor the lizard folk hierarchy, and are capable of taking down hundreds or thousands of warriors unless brought down by skilled and reckless fighters. Those who kill a dragon are known by the title Dragonbane, and that title commands respect throughout the human world, even now. Egar has gone home, and is Clanmaster to the Skaranak clan of the Majak, his birth tribe. He's going through the motions, but he's bored, remembering his time in the 'sissy' civilized world of the Imperial South. There, there were things like baths, and whores educated enough to converse with, and barbers who know how to give a good shave, as opposed to the severe existence of living in yurts herding on the steppe.
Archeth is a jet-black half-human, a woman whose father was a member of the Kiriath, a now-vanished race. They came to the world thousands of years ago in fireships, vessels which traversed the worlds via the heat and pressure of the world's core, helmed by demonic mechanisms known as the Helmsmen. Arriving on Earth, they set out to drag humanity up from the barbaric state it was in. They offered their technology to the current Empire, backing its creation and its ruling dynasty a few generations ago. But the Great War against the lizards broke them, it seems - those that survived the fighting decided to leave, and they took their fireships into the burning and the deeps, where (it is said by some) they died rather than make the crossing.
They left behind a single half-Kiriath, half-human woman, Archeth, who survives as the Emperor's talisman 'Dark Wizard' - immortal, or at least as nearly so as she can tell, like her forebears, and trying half-heartedly to teach herself the mastery of the litter of Kiriath technology her people left behind.
This, then, is the setting of the series at its start. I've saved you maybe ten or twenty total pages reading, don't worry. No real spoilers.
The World is a grim one. Humans are embattled - the Kiriath are (mostly) gone, as are their ancient enemy the Dwenda - but the Dwenda may be returning. With the Lizard Folk threat defeated, humanity fell back into internecine conflict. Slavery and more random violence are rampant, in all polities. There are various gods, the Dark Court and others, who are also players in the story unrolling before us - manipulators of history, manifesting before our protagonists at times. The trilogy really is the story of a turning point in the world - and the turning point, really, is the Kiriath mission, now mostly abandoned, of uplifting humans. What path will those humans follow? Behind who, or what?
The 'Grim Dark' bit is not kidding. There's a veritable onslaught of Bad Things(tm) happening to everyone, here - they happen to our protagonists, to the bystanders, to everybody. Death is frequent, life is cheap, and pain is everywhere. I'd say it's sort of as if Conan's world met Perdido Street Station, and all the while the possibility of a high sci-fi plot is dangled just out of reach, kept from the reader by filtering it through the perceptions of the main characters. Even Archeth, the quintessential technomage, isn't much help here, because she was too young to have mastered the tech before her people abandoned her - she knows it's technology, not magic - but there are things that aren't her people's tech, and even that she cannot explain or teach to others. The world is not uplifted enough to join her in her knowledge, and she lacks enough practical expertise to utilize the tech as anything other than a blackbox set of tools - in other words, magic.
This series won't be for everyone. I'm mostly unsure why Morgan is so intent on providing us with graphic male homosexual sex scenes (oh, Archeth, too, is gay - but since she's the last member of the Magic Race, and a woman to boot, this isn't really an issue for her; nobody cares. It's a man's world, here), but whatever. The story is in fact a good one, and the last volume provides more answers than I had expected to get about the whole world and its existence.
There are also fun easter eggs in it if you've read Morgan's other works.
A Land Fit for Heroes
Author: Richard K. Morgan
- The Steel Remains - 2008
- The Cold Commands - 2010
- The Dark Defiles - 2014
* The full name of Ringil's sword, which is Kiriath steel (made by the now-vanished Kiriath, with unknown special properties) is, according to the Kiriath who forged it for him: I am Welcomed in the Home of Ravens and Other Scavengers in the Wake of Warriors, I am Friend to Carrion Crows and Wolves. I am Carry Me and Kill with Me, and Die with Me Where the Road Ends. I am not the Honeyed Promise of Length of Life in Years to Come, I am the Iron Promise of Never Being a Slave.
Ringil, naturally, calls it the Ravensfriend.