SPFBO6 FINALIST REVIEW: Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher

Posted by

ESME

If you’ve read Fletcher’s stuff before you’ll know that he has a tendency to write grimdark books – full of fucked up shit. This is not an exception to that rule, there are no rainbows and sunshine here.

Khraen is a demonologist, which are known for common use of human sacrifice. Khraen is a distinctive and memorable character for a lot of reasons… I wouldn’t describe him as an anti-hero… I would say he’s straight up a villain. He’s a quite a different type of villain than I’m used to, though. Khraen has had his heart broken into pieces and scattered throughout the world, and because of that he’s suffering from amnesia in the beginning of the book and is almost animal-like in nature. However, each time he finds a piece of his heart, he restores a bit of himself and his memories. This is the second book in a row where the main character has amnesia – which is strange since I haven’t read one of those kinds of books in ages.

He’s eventually paired up with a necromancer named Henke, who needs human blood for her magic and self-maintenance. Henke is pretty, fascinated with Khraen, and is stone cold undead. She feels no pain physically, and can raise animals as well as humans from the dead – which she can then bend to her will. What’s even more bleak about this is that the humans she raises from the dead aren’t mindless zombies. They remember everything from their lives, and have minds of their own and yet they have no willpower… they are completely enslaved. It’s pretty fascinating to watch a villainous character grapple with how evil they are… with each piece of his heart that gets returned he becomes more ruthless. He remembers more of the atrocities he’s committed in his past which takes him further down the rabbit hole of being a villain. All the while he’s aware on some level that he’s becoming more fucked up and wants to change it, but he’s also detached and accepting of horrific acts of violence. This whole book has the main character wrestling with his morality. He tries to be the ‘better’ person this time around and make some genuinely benevolent choices, but he inevitably ends up doing the evil thing but doesn’t seem to care much. It’s a slow progression from bad to worse as he and his partner become more powerful and remember more things. He hates wizards, a lot. Every time he sees one he wants to kill them and burn down their towers and wreak havoc on them. He can’t remember why for most of the first half of the book.

The world building is as dark as the characters which makes this a deeply grimdark book. There are cities that were once powered by demons, and these demons are summoned from other dimensions through mass human sacrifice. There are other moments where I was like WTF …Henke wouldn’t die if she was cut into pieces…it’s tough to kill a necromancer. But, that doesn’t mean an enemy can’t render them harmless. If Henke gets cut into pieces and buried she will just sit there in a conscious state and rot away until the end of time, slowly sinking into the earth, buried forever in blackness and loneliness losing grip on her sanity. WTF even is that? Christ. There’s a lot of sexy time between MC and Henke, and in order for her to ‘feel warm’ she has to use human blood to restore herself. Otherwise she’s cold dead flesh, so like, necrophilia is sort of a thing here too, lol.

The prose in this was pretty great, I can’t speak to typos or errors since I listened to the audio, but the dialogue was natural and fluid. It was descriptive enough to create a world but not so much so that it slowed down the story. As far as originality, it’s not that the concept of wizards vs evil necromancers is a new thing, but I haven’t seen it from the necromancer’s point of view before, so in that way it felt fresh.

I would recommend this one for fans of grimdark, villain POVs, grim and bleak worlds, necromancy, fast reads, and those who listen to audiobooks.

Ratings: 

  • Plot: 12/15
  • Character: 13/15
  • World Building: 14/15
  • Writing: 14/15
  • Pacing: 13/15
  • Originality: 12/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 7/10

Final Score: 85/100 or 8.5/10 

KRISTEN:

Black Stone Heart was the first of Michael Fletcher’s books that I’ve ever read, and I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a lot. 

Khraen is a man with no memories. He wakes up in the bitter north and as he travels along, he finds that he is drawn, quite specifically, to shards of black stone which mostly seem to reside within the hearts of other people who… look just like him. When he touches them, they absorb into his skin, they move to his heart and he regains some of his memories. 

As he travels, he meets a lot of scorn for him, based on the color of his skin, and he wonders where that scorn comes from. Further memories start to shed light on who and what he is. 

This book focuses a lot on the idea of ‘what is evil?’ – is evil something you are or is evil something that you choose to be. I liked how this theme was revisited and as we see Khraen become more and more like who he was before he lost his memories, but also how his experiences leading up to finding those memories (the people he meets, the relationships he forges, etc) influence who he ultimately becomes. The person his memories seem to indicate he is, and the person he currently is seem to share a completely different set of morals. 

I thought the writing was great. This is a very character-focused story, and following Khrean as a character who is basically a blank slate into what he becomes was an excellent bit of storytelling. There were twists and turns to the story, and I admittedly guessed a few of them well in advance to them being revealed, but my guessing them didn’t detract from the story as a whole. This was an engrossing story from start to finish. 

I listened to the audiobook, which is also narrated by Michael Fletcher and I have to say that he did a fantastic job with it. The first five minutes of the book was like listening to a metal video without the video, which was bizarre but intriguing nonetheless. 

One of the most entertaining things about this entire experience was something that I very much doubt will happen to anyone else. I would go home after listening to 7 or so hours of this book at work, and after helloing my spouse, would get the ‘Wow, your accent is back. Have you been talking to your mom?’ – I am pretty sure I’m from the same part of Canada that Fletcher is. I mostly lost my accent after not living there for several years… but it very obviously comes back under a few conditions: talking to my mom or sister, watching too much Canadian TV (Letterkenny, obvs), or uh… apparently listening to this audiobook? #SorreyNotSorrey 

I had a total of 8/10 stars of fun with Black Stone Heart. I definitely plan to read more into this series!

GRAHAM

Black Stone Heart is a book I had mixed feelings about right up until the point I started to actually read it. I’d read the description, and I wasn’t quite sure where Fletcher was going with it. The opening paragraph of the back cover read suspiciously like a romance novel. I should have known better. I DID know better. But still…

Black Stone Heart opens with the main character alone, and confused. A corpse coming back to life and literally clawing his way out of the dirt. Khraen is a young man of roughly nineteen but with no memories of who he is, or where he comes from. He has to eke out an existence, slowing clawing his way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, until he discovers a shard of obsidian within the heart of a boy.

The shard brings a portion of his memories back to him, and Khraen embarks on a quest to discover and regain who and what he was. This is a hard review to write without spoiling the whole book, but there’s a little bit for everyone. Scheming wizards, demonologists, necromancers… A lost love. A lost empire. A lost power. It’s all there and it’s amazing.

Fletcher isn’t known for writing light-hearted books. He’s a grimdark author who deals in the darker side of human nature. That said, it would be an oversimplification to call this a grimdark book. There’s a connotation that, rightly or wrongly, goes along with that label and this book is so much more than that. 

Black Stone Heart is a story about lost innocence and the battle to regain it. A battle for redemption in the face of betrayal. It’s about a trade off between regaining power and losing your soul to it. Frankly, it’s fucking fantastic.

The worldbuilding is superb, with details slowly drip-fed to the reader as Khraen rediscovers them. The magic system is detailed, and well thought-out. Khraen’s hatred of wizards and everything associated with them is a delightful touch, driving the plot, and Khraen, forward as both he, and the reader, seek to discover the reasons why.

The characters all have agency and purpose, especially the female characters who are brilliantly done. The twists, when they came, were slightly predictable but I really didn’t care. I was along for the ride by that point and Fletcher could have taken me anywhere the story wanted to go. 

I’ll say this for BSH, rarely has a story grabbed me so deeply and so quickly. It’s a dark and visceral journey that any reader would love to travel. I recommend this book to anyone over sixteen with eyes, fingers, or ears. I’m giving this one a ten out of ten for SPFBO. Frankly, I’d give it eleven if I could. It’s the best thing I’ve read in ages.

SPFBO score – 10. 

FINAL SCORE: 8.8/10 ROUNDED TO 9/10