Started off with the typical Morgan panache: dark sense of humor (check), 'though prone to overuse the smartass quip (check), in service of often startling misanthropy (check), and kick-ass ass-kicking scenes (check). [Digression: I used to think that William Goldman wrote the best action scenes in novels, an ability to get the reader breathless in the punchy choreography, but Morgan gives him a run for his money.] Violent, profane, nasty world, mean people (and non-people), and so on.
But book by book, Morgan's science fiction took that basic template and imbued it, in increasingly sophisticated fashion, with complex characterization and--even better--a scabrous criticism of injustice. His last novel was the excellent [book:Black Man] (timidly renamed [book:Thirteen] in the States), which used the same old dystopian-noir/action/cynical form to interrogate a slew of prejudices and systemic inequalities. His ripping yarns have been stoked by a kind of political fury that pushes the books even harder.
And there's no reason why a fantasy novel couldn't do the same, yet I came to this with a knee-jerk disinterest trained into me over decades of shit books my friends promised would be really good. In fact, when in chapter two a character popped up with the modifier "the Dragonbane" attached to his name, I almost set the book aside. Perhaps this was just an homage, like his first novel quite engaging but so steeped in its influences that Morgan's own passions could get lost in the mix. And such homage is only fun when you know and love the source(s) for the fannish mash-up.
Nope. This was solid, even for this stupidly-determined non-fan of the genre. Folks have commented on (often complained about) the explicit violence (yup) and sex (yup--and hot male-male action, mostly, too). What struck me was the rich political matrix Morgan parcels out in background and stray details, 'til by novel's end you have this complex sense of deep historical battles. I enjoyed it.