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Woken Furies by Richard K. MorganUK edition4 stars

Buy from Barnes & NobleBuy from IndieBoundBuy from PowellsThe culmination of everything Richard Morgan has been building towards since he began his Takeshi Kovacs novels in 2002, Woken Furies is better than both Altered Carbon and Broken Angels by an order of magnitude. Lacking both the first novel’s derivative obsession with style and the second’s unredeeming, bleak worldview, Woken Furies marries breathtaking suspense and action with a more consistent and intellectually fulfilling plot that explores the dynamics of power and consequences of revolution from a perspective neither idealistic nor overly cynical and jaundiced. Furthermore, Takeshi Kovacs himself comes into his own as a hero, not merely a long-black-coat clad, boilerplate antihero. This is the first volume of the saga where I found him, at last, a sympathetic character.

As with all of the Kovacs novels, Woken Furies can be read as a stand-alone. I’m torn between whether to recommend that you skip right to this one, or read them in order so you can, if nothing else, have the pleasure of experiencing Morgan’s maturation as a writer. On balance the latter seems the obvious position to take (and besides, I haven’t disliked any of these books at all). Morgan’s development has been, alongside that of Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, one of the more exciting in SF to watch during the 2000s.

In this third volume, Kovacs has returned to his home planet of Harlan’s World. We find him in the midst of a vicious vendetta against a group of religious fanatics called the Knights of the New Revelation, who were responsible for failing to resleeve — restore into a new body after her death — an old friend (and perhaps lover?), only ever seen by us fleetingly in Altered Carbon’s prologue. He’s also in debt to a childhood buddy and local crimelord, who’s loaned him the cash to pursue this bloody quest. He’s just on the cusp of meeting his obligations when he rescues a young woman named Sylvie from the Talibanish clutches of the Knights, and is promptly swept up in an adventure that could have repercussions for the whole of Harlan’s World.

Sylvie leads a team of deCons, salvage workers who patrol the ruined island of New Hokkaido, looking for spare tech and knocking out mimints — military machine intelligence — wherever they find it. To escape the wrath of the yakuza and the Knights, Kovacs joins Sylvie’s team. During their run, they find themselves in a battle with mimints that somehow ends with Sylvie’s being taken over by a personality construct that claims to be the stored backup of Quellcrist Falconer, a revolutionary leader from Harlan’s World’s past who attempted to overthrow the ruling Harlan oligarchy before going down in flames. Quellism is still very much alive as a philosophy, and when her scattered followers get wind of this “resurrection,” Kovacs finds himself an unwitting participant in what may be a revived revolution. That the Harlan family has spurred things along by abducting Sylvie has only galvanized the fanaticism of the Quellists, among whom, Kovacs is alarmed to discover, is his old Envoy trainer Virginia Vidaura.

But is this really Quellcrist Falconer who has taken possession of Sylvie? Or is it some piece of renegade software, or something else entirely? And is Harlan’s World really on the brink of another full-blown revolutionary war, which would compel the U.N. to send down the Envoys with crushing force?

Kovacs has another problem. The yakuza, puppet-mastered by the Harlan family, has sent an assassin on his trail, and this assassin’s identity (which every other review of this book will doubtless give away) sends our reluctant hero into something of an existential crisis.

Woken Furies takes a smart approach to examining the subject of revolution and its concomitant, tempestuous politics, in that it gives us a hero who — through the technological gift of life extension — has seen such movements try and fail in a historical context. It isn’t that all revolutions are bad ideas. It’s that too often, when they succeed, it’s a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” (Interestingly, the novel depicts Harlan’s World, though run under a tyranny, as one whose quality of life is steadily improving, a condition for which both sides take credit.) Kovacs’ primary motivation when pursuing his vendetta against the Knights was to avenge a loved one. In following the Quellists on their march of folly, he cares only about restoring Sylvie to her own mind. His focus is on people, while everyone around him is obsessed either with some ideology or other, or with simple wealth and prestige. All Kovacs can do is look on as those around him are only too happy to repeat patterns of history whose destructive outcomes he has witnessed far too often. 

Kovacs, in this novel, is portrayed with far more humanity than Morgan has used before. In past books, he often seemed very one-note, his anger and violent urges mostly reactionary. Here, he’s world-weary, as anyone might be who’s been revived from the dead only to find they have to serve as someone’s employee or pawn every time. But he still knows what matters, what he cares about, and in defending his own ideals, he’ll be as fair or as ruthless as he has to be. Sometimes, that’s all a man can do, in the face of history.

Again, Morgan gives us a book title with a double meaning. The woken furies are not only the ghost of Quellcrist Falconer, but the inexorable forces that are set in motion when her revolution is sparked in a whole new generation. At this, Kovacs can only wonder, will they ever learn?