ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Smoke and Stone by Michael R. Fletcher
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: City of Sacrifice (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
Pages: 511 pages
Published: 1st November 2019 by Michael R. Fletcher (UK & US)
Utterly remarkable post-apocalyptic grimdark fantasy.
It’s surreal, but as it turns out, it’s been two years and approximately two hundred books since I’ve read anything new by Fletcher. It’s a serious shame that after all this time, Fletcher still hasn’t received the fame and recognition he deserves. When it comes to grimdark fantasy, I find that George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and Steven Erikson tend to be the most often mentioned names; for many good reasons. However, I do strongly believe that Fletcher should be equally ranked as high as them. I am drowning in books to read, but when Fletcher asked me to read and review his newest book, I accepted, started, and finished reading it immediately within two days.
“The fifth age ended in catastrophe and the death of a world. We live now in the sixth age, the age beyond life, the age of apocalypse. We live a nightmare. We are damned souls, doomed to a slow and rotting demise.”—Loa Book of the Invisibles
Smoke and Stone is the first book in Fletcher’s brand new City of Sacrifice series; it is completely unrelated to his Manifest Delusions series. If you’re a fan of Manifest Delusions—like me—please don’t let this fact discourage you. Believe me, I’m eagerly waiting for the third and last book in Manifest Delusions too, but if you’ve read ANY of Fletcher’s previous work, you should already know that Smoke and Stone will still be infused with insanely morbid and compelling imagination. Now, what’s the premise of this book? I’ll let a small passage from the very early stages of the book describe it for you:
“The war of the gods ended with the near extinction of humanity. With so few mortals left to worship them, the surviving gods starved. In a desperate attempt to save mankind the last gods created Bastion, a city formed of a single piece of stone pulled from deep beneath the Bloody Desert. Bastion is the last city of man; beyond its walls is endless death.”—The Book of Bastion
You read that right, the setting of the story takes place in a city formed on a single piece of stone. I don’t know about you, but I honestly don’t think I’ve read a fantasy novel with a setting like that before. If you want to know more regarding the premise, check out the official blurb on Goodreads/Amazon; they’re completely spoiler-free and informative. Fletcher has mentioned in the acknowledgment section that he narrowed the number of perspectives to two characters: Akachi and Nuru. I didn’t read the multi-POV version, but what I’ve read here was fantastic and utterly well-plotted. Smoke and Stone at its core portrayed what happened when different factions of different social statuses and faiths clash with each other. Akachi is a priest of Cloud Serpent (Lord of the Hunt), and he’s a temple-trained sorcerer who came from the inner ring of Bastion; rich, and living more glamorously, he’s tasked to bring peace to the outer ring of Bastion. Nuru is a street sorcerer who came from the outer ring of Bastion. What made the clash and rivalry between these two characters so engaging and interesting to read for me was because of, in a way, their personalities and situations were similar. What ended up separating them and causing the deadly conflict between these two characters and groups were the difference in caste, upbringing, and faith.
“Culture, like religion, depends on indoctrination of children before they are able to question or think for themselves. It is critical that the formative years of a Grower’s life be spent in an environment controlled by the church.”—The Book of Bastion
The world-building, magic system, and actions were incredible as you can probably expect from Fletcher. Each chapter begins with an epigraph that helps flesh out the intricate lore and inventive magic system of the series. It would be incomplete for a fantasy book by Fletcher to not have a magic system that’s considerably fucked up and yet original. Akachi smokes narcotics and Nuru uses crystal stones to activate her magic; hence, one of the main reasons why the book is titled Smoke and Stone. I found double-edged madness-fueled narcotics as a magic system to be something that’s incredibly brilliant. The magic systems—such as shape-shifting, dream-walking, etc—made the battle and turmoils between the avatars of warring gods destructive and visceral to read. I personally think that the book has a slightly steeper learning curve—make sure to check the glossary at the back of the book if you feel confused, I wish I had known about this!—compared to Manifest Delusions, but once I got the hang of things, the novel became satisfyingly difficult to put down.
“Where there is inequality, there can be no justice.” –Loa Book of the Invisibles
Smoke and Stone is post-apocalyptic fantasy magnificence; it redefined and intensified the notion that grimdark fantasy is truly Fletcher’s domain of expertise. Manifest Delusions, Ghost of Tomorrow, and now City of Sacrifice, I’ve read all of Fletcher’s full novels, and I can vouch for their quality; none of them had ever received a rating of below 4 stars from me. It’s always a 4-5 stars rating, and this stunning first book in City of Sacrifice keeps up that tradition. As always, I recommend this, and ALL of Fletcher’s works, to readers who love reading grimdark fantasy.
Official release date: September 13th, 2019
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.