Title: Smoke and Stone
Author: Michael R. Fletcher
Series: City of Sacrifice #1
Rating: 3/5 stars
The Overview: After a cataclysmic war of the gods, the last of humanity huddles in Bastion, a colossal ringed city. Beyond the outermost wall lies endless desert haunted by the souls of all the world’s dead. Trapped in a rigid caste system, Nuru, a young street sorcerer, lives in the outer ring. She dreams of escape and freedom. When something contacts her from beyond the wall, she risks everything and leaps at the opportunity. Mother Death, a banished god seeking to reclaim her place in Bastion’s patchwork pantheon, has found her way back into the city. Akachi, born to the wealth and splendour of Bastion’s inner rings, is a priest of Cloud Serpent, Lord of the Hunt. A temple-trained sorcerer, he is tasked with bringing peace to the troublesome outer ring. Drawn into a dark and violent world of assassins, gangs, and street sorcerers, he battles the spreading influence of Mother Death in a desperate attempt to save Bastion. The gods are once again at war. -Goodreads
I’ve been hearing great things about Michael R. Fletcher for years. Several people in my Goodreads group (Fantasy Buddy Reads) have been raving about his Manifest Delusions series, and he’s even stopped by to do some Q&As (gracious authors rock). When offered a review audiobook of his latest novel, Smoke and Stone, I jumped at the opportunity to give him a try.
The book was definitely grimdark, and I liked how true to the genre it stayed – abundant violence, bleak outlooks, dry humor. It’s usually in these dark reads where you find the most beautiful glimmer of humanity by contrast. Smoke and Stone was no exception on that regard. Subjectively, I think it may have leaned too dark without as much glimmer for my personal taste, but I still enjoyed it.
When venturing in, I expected the dark elements and the dry humor based on FBR feedback about his writing. What I didn’t expect was the personable nature of the characters. They were downright charming, and easily my favorite aspect of the book. There were moments where it dipped its toe into providing more depth – inner motivations and driving forces behind the characters – but it didn’t get below surface-level very often and I think that’s part of the reason why I finished the book not feeling particularly connected to the characters, nor torn up about some of the awful things that happened to some of them.
The concept for the story was interesting, but I felt the culture needed a bit more development. The strict framework of the priests of the Cloud Serpent kind of contradicted the somewhat casual enforcement of their practices. The fact that a lesser sorcerer could even be allowed to question the morality of sacrifices without sever punishment (or at least crippling fear of sever punishment from all the brainwashing) was a bit of a contradiction. If nothing else, hanging a prominent lantern on the discrepancy would’ve helped.
All that said, the main story arc was action-packed and generally badass. I loved the pacing through the whole thing and the quiet moments with the characters were golden – where you learn more about them based on decisions and reactions. It’s a good start to a series with potential to grow.
Recommendations: I’ve heard rave reviews about the Manifest Delusions series and still hope to pick those up soon, regardless of my conservative rating here. Many of my GR buddies (who’s opinions I highly respect) really love this author, so I’m definitely not finished exploring his work. Pick it up for a creative grimdark experience and some interesting characters.
I’d like to thank Michael R. Fletcher for kindly providing a review copy. And thank you, Jon, for orchestrating it. :)
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