I haven’t reviewed a novel in a long time, and this is the perfect time to return to it.
I’ve spent a long time writing and reading dark, gritty fantasy, and sometimes it can go too over the top. Well, i’m pleased to say that this book has found a perfect balance.
Fletcher I think is pretty well known for grimdark. His series Manifest Delusions pretty much defines the genre. Gotta love some human stew.
I absolutely love that series, and I hope it continues in some form someday. If that series had a weakness, if any, it was possibly too grimdark, almost to a psychotic degree.
Smoke and Stone tones down the brutality to something thats both more managable, and quality. It is by far Fletcher’s best work (though his work in general is excellent quality, so that should be a testament to how much I enjoy this book) and as of typing up this review, it’s the best book I’ve read so far this year. That’s taking into account some excellent books like The Lore of Prometheus, Blood of Heirs, Seraphinas Lament, Dreams of the Dying and the entire Expanse series. Yes, I think the book is that good. In short, buy the fuck out of his book and read it!
But you guys came here for a review, so here goes.
While Smoke and Stone is well balanced and in my opinion a more flexible take on grimdark, it’s still violent. It takes place inside one city with a ruthless caste system, and there is still the good murders and violence that makes Fletcher’s books so good. The worldbuilding is stellar, and it really brings you into the immersion. I can follow the narrative and see everything, which takes skill to do.
The characters I think are the best Fletcher has ever written. We have Nuru, a street sorcerer who is trying to survive, who joins up with a small group, and Akachi, a priest of Cloud Serpent who is doing what he can to bring peace to this violent, war-torn city. The gods are preparing for war, and have fucking awesome names. Mother Death, a banished underworld god, battles Akachi in a war that will define the future of humanity.
It still takes a bit of time to get with the characters, but I found things really tight, and I found myself rooting for everyone. Again, this takes skill. The writing is tight, and puts the characters through hell. Fletcher ruins them, and breaking only makes them more powerful.
The magic system is truly impressive and I think it’s the biggest part that draws me in. Seriously, magic based on drugs! It’s so damn cool, and it’s really fleshed out. There are no fewer than twenty drugs used by sorcerers to do magic, and they get mixed for extra effects. Akachi can turn into a fucking puma, and Nuru turns carvings into living automatons. It’s such a cool magic system, and as someone who also experiments with drugs in his own novels (In the fantasy world, NOT ours! We’re all good here), It’s a true example of how creative you can be.
This might be a shorter review than I usually do, but I think I’ve summed up everything. I liked the tight writing, the brilliant world design, and the story sets the scene for what I think is going to be a brilliant series.
Rating: 5/5. I absolutely adored this book from beginning to end. If I use a best out of 10 system, I would round things down to a 9.5. The only thing which I think could improve this book even more would be a bit more exploration in the world, but I think Book 2 will go into that more.