The third and final installment in the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy Woken Furies was a bittersweet read for me. On the one hand, Takeshi is probably the best protagonist I've come across in years. I sincerely want to be him when I grow up, and I feel a special kinship to him. Richard Morgan is a fantastic storyteller with an incredible command of the language, making his books a joy to read. Unfortunately, this is the last planned book featuring Takeshi. I tried to draw it out and savor every moment - but I got so involved in the story I finished it in just a couple of days. I'm looking forward to rereading the series again to revisit these characters and worlds that have become part of my mental landscape.
And that's a major theme of this book - when people live long enough to see history repeat itself, does it mean they have new choices about how they'll take part or does it mean they are just that much more prepared to do it all over again? How much freewill does someone have, when the same machinations of politics and capital force the same crucibles every few generations? In Woken Furies, the Trotskyist dogma gets marched out front and center, and Takeshi is constantly forced to evaluate how personal he wants to make the political. When we meet Takeshi at the beginning of the story, he's back on his homeworld, exacting revenge against a politically powerful cult of misogynistic theists (think Sharia law). While he's still an incredibly potent warrior and force to be reckoned with on any number of planets, his life has dwindled to a molten ember of hate fueled by revenge. We see Takeshi's personality stripped down to his essence, a tightly coiled spring that only comes to life in violent spurts. His cynicism has ceased to be just a glib way of brushing people off and has taken a life of it's own, and his capacity to care for anyone or anything else seems to have been replaced with a self-destructive urge that is more than slightly remniscent of Case at the beginning of William Gibson's "Neuromancer".
However, the similiarities to other stories end there. I do not intend in any way to imply that Woken Furies is derivative. It's as fresh and innovative as the rest of the series, and while the tone is dark and the protagonist is in the angriest and loneliest mental space of his long life, it is constantly fresh and surprising - no mean feat for the third book in a series. The story follows Takeshi as he's forced to evaluate how much he's willing to sacrifice to maintain his cold aloofness. Several times in the book, he's given the opportunity to join a cause larger than himself, and each time he involves himself just enough to get what he wants out of it - always with the argument that it doesn't matter what he does now, the march of history will trample all their dreams just like it has before. What he really means is that his dreams have been trampled, and he's too hurt and bitter to move on. His former Envoy commander calls him out on it, telling him point blank it doesn't matter how many people he kills, the woman he loved is going to stay dead. Takeshi's response is to tell her that at least killing the people who created the situation that led to his love's death gives him a momentary sense of relief. Unfortunately, like any drug, it takes more and more to get any reaction and through the latter half of the book Takeshi is floundering in his resentment, searching for something to lash out at.
His former Envoy commander isn't the only ghost from his past. The woman he was with in the first chapter of Altered Carbon is a driving force in the plot, as are his former Envoy comrades, gangsters he ran with as a young thug, and even a younger copy of his personality. This latter complication could easily fall into farcical nonsense, but Richard treats it with dilegence and care, and eventually the Takeshi of the timeline we know has to face the younger Takeshi who hasn't experienced the last century. As I've often said, "If I met my younger self, I'd kick his mouthy ass", and Takeshi(1) feels much the same. The scene where they finally meet may be one of the most powerful scenes in the entire series. Without giving away any spoilers, I'll just say that Takeshi(1) drives home one of the most important themes of the series: "Live my life for a hundred years and see how well you handle it, if you can make any better choices than I have".
Despite all this, the book ultimately ends on a hopeful note that I won't give away here. Like the other two books, Takeshi's efforts to make himself rich and forget his past lead him and his companions to some technology that's a "game changer" and may yet provide a way for "the little guys" to take on the powers that be. Takeshi's last thoughts as the last chapter close show he's begun living for something, hope, rather than spending his life fighting against everything.
This is another absolutely brilliant book by Richard K. Morgan, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone vaguely interested in scifi. Unfortunately, it may be hard to get into for people not accustomed to the genre thanks to Richard's liberal use of new terms and technologies that he never specifically defines for the benefit of the reader. I am looking forward to rereading the whole series many times during the rest of my life.