Richard K. Morgan puts his aggressive antihero through physical, emotional and mental wringers in ‘Woken Furies,’ the culmination of his Takeshi Kovacs trilogy

July 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 12, 2019

At the start of Richard K. Morgan’s 2003 debut novel, Altered Carbon, his narrator’s consciousness was revived in someone else’s body — a “sleeve” — in Bay City, a sprawling metropolis straddling the San Francisco Bay. It was Takeshi Kovacs’s first visit to Earth, a journey arranged by an ultrawealthy Methuselah who had memories of watching the first interstellar colony ships journeying to the stars.

Morgan envisions a future in which memories can be transferred from an original body to a robot to a clone to an entirely different body nearly at will. Although physical travel across interstellar distances consumes a few decades, human minds and other information can be shuttled from one star to another almost instantaneously thanks to “needlecasts.”

The sequel to Altered Carbon, 2003’s Broken Angels, was set a few decades later on Sanction IV, a colony world ravaged by a vicious insurrection. The plot saw Kovacs defect from a mercenary organization to pursue an amazing discovery — a portal to an abandoned alien starship.

Woken Furies, the 2005 capstone to the Kovacs trilogy, returns the character to his home planet, Harlan’s World. However, the reunion is not exactly a happy one; as the first chapter gets under way, Kovacs is wounded by a priest shooting blindly through a door. The protagonist, a sort of free-agent gunsel with a conscience, isn’t above pursuing a sadistic vendetta, although Morgan conceals the exact nature and scope of what’s going on for a few hundred pages.

The same is true of the main plot, which begins with Kovacs intervening when a group of religious police attempt to harass a single woman with uncovered hair in a bar. Their would-be target is Sylvie, the head of a “deCom” team that is part of a massive effort to cleanse a continent of autonomous weapons systems that are a legacy of Harlan’s World’s own insurrection a few centuries back.

Kovacs falls in with the team, in no small part because they know an abandoned bunker on the tainted continent containing a number of spare sleeves — bodies that will come in handy to replace both his own wounded synthetic shell and the corpse of Jadwiga, a member of Sylvie’s team who fares poorly in this confrontation with a yakuza princeling named Yukio and his pair of goons:

“I don’t know who the fuck you are,” said Sylvie evenly. “But I know you’re in our place without an invitation. So I think you’d better just leave.” 

The yakuza’s face flared disbelief. 

“Yeah, get the fuck out of here.” Jadwiga threw up both hands in something midway between a combat guard and a gesture of obscene dismissal. 

“Jad—” I started, but by then it had all already tipped too far. 

Jad was already swinging forward, chin jutting, clearly bent on shoving the yak muscleman tit-for-tat back to the door. The muscle reached, still grinning. Jad dummied him, very fast, left him reaching, and took him down with a judo trick. Someone yelled, behind me. Then, without fuss, Yukio produced a tiny black particle blaster and shot Jad with it. 

She dropped, freeze-lit by the pale flash of the blast. The odor of roasted meat rolled out across the room. Everything stopped. 

I must have been moving forward, because the second yak enforcer blocked me, face gone shocked, hands filled with a pair of Szeged slug guns. I froze, lifted empty warding hands in front of me. On the floor, the other thug tried to get up and stumbled over the remains of Jad. 

“Right.” Yukio looked around the rest of the room, wagging the blaster mainly in Sylvie’s direction. “That’s enough. I don’t know what the fuck’s going on here, but you—” 

Sylvie spat out a single word. 


Thunder detonated in the confined space again. This time, it was blinding. I had a brief impression of looping gouts of white fire, past me and branching, buried in Yukio, the enforcer in front of me, the man still halfway up from the floor. The enforcer flung out his arms, as if embracing the blast that drenched him from the chest down. His mouth gaped wide. His sunlenses flashed incandescent with reflected glare. 

The fire inked out, collapsing afterimages soaking across my vision in tones of violet. I blinked through it, groping at detail. 

The enforcer was two severed halves steaming up at me from the floor, Szeged still gripped in each fist. Excess discharge had welded his hands to the weapons. 

The one getting up had never made it. He was down next to Jad again, gone from the chest up. 

Yukio had a hole through him that had removed pretty much every internal organ he owned. Charred rib ends protruded from the upper half of a perfectly oval wound in which you could see the tiled floor he lay on like a cheap special effect. 

Morgan pulls few punches when it comes to the violence or sex in his books, which as you see can get rather graphic. The author doesn’t want his readers or his antihero to get too comfortable with the simultaneously fantastic and grim reality that he’s constructed in the Kovacs trilogy. There’s an amazing moment where the narrator starts to regret his blood feud with an entire religion.

Kovacs also becomes ambivalent about Sylvie, with who he shares a mutual attraction. But theirs is not a straightforward relationship.

When Kovacs’s association with her deCom team becomes a clear threat to Sylvie, she’s forced flee the contaminated continent under his safekeeping. The narrator promises her team that he’ll protect Sylvie, but after a while he grows unsure about how to full that obligation.

‘Woken Furies’ by Richard K. Morgan.

That’s because the ghost of a revolutionary figure begins to emerge from dark places in Sylvie’s psyche, making her a target for a variety of people and organizations: crime syndicates, the oligarchs who run Harlan’s World, a band of former rebels who have become surfers, and a retired interstellar troubleshooter who wants to maintain order, with little regard for whatever suffering this causes the locals. Unfortunately, these groups are much more interested in Sylvie’s secondary personality, genuine or not, than they are in the woman who hosts it.

Kovacs wrestles with whether and how to help the latter two factions. He’s sympathetic to the erstwhile rebels, hostile to the oligarchs and generally indifferent to the interstellar status quo. But he fears that a new revolution will result in a lot of deaths while yielding few fruits for Harlan’s World’s underclass.

Woken Furies is, like Broken Angels, primarily an adventure story, but a complicated one. The novel likes a traditional mystery like the one at the center of Altered Carbon, but as in the second book in the series, there are strange situations that Kovacs must puzzle out using his nearly eidetic memory and finely honed powers of deduction. He also questions the nature of identity in a universe where reincarnation is practically banal and some choose to abandon the flesh altogether and inhabit wholly digital simulacra.

This is, in short, a fitting conclusion to an amazing trilogy. I have no interest in reading Morgan’s fantasy trilogy, A Land fit for Heroes, but I do look forward to checking out the author’s three stand-alone science fiction novels.

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