SPFBO 7 FINALIST REVIEW: Norylska Groans by Michael R. Fletcher & Clayton Snyder

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IT IS TIME FOR ANOTHER FINALIST REVIEEWWW!!!! We are working our way through the list super fast! I think we have three reviews left after this and we can close it up for SPFBO 7!!


DNF 44% – This is a very well written book, with a really visceral setting and excellent prose, however I just couldn’t get into it because I hated both of the main characters. It’s quite grimdark, and so lovers of the genre may love it just for how grim (and dark, obvs) it is, but following characters I didn’t like through continued misery and unpleasantness just got to be too much. I don’t dislike dark fantasy, but I do generally need characters to like to keep me interested. I’d give it a 6 based on what I read.

6/10 for SPFBO


From the very first page this book announces what it is: a dark, fucked up saga. The prose itself is dark and dreary… littered with with bleak imagery that’s woven into a story to which the content itself is also dark and brutal. The effectiveness of the prose leaves the reader with a dismal sort of tone. If the goal was to make the reader squirm a bit, they have been successful – at least with me.

The main character works in a meat packing facility that renders the megafauna that feeds the city. It’s not a great job, it doesn’t pay much more than what covers basic living necessities, and any unexpected expense could put him and his wife on the street. Then of course he loses his job. He was once a soldier but the pension doesn’t pay much. He gives the impression of an older more grizzled character which typically I enjoy. He’s definitely not a “good guy”, he beats people to get their money, steals, and as a soldier he killed indiscriminately to make sure he got out alive.

Kat is in an abusive relationship but not just in the physical way. It’s a more subtle manipulation and verbally abusive kind of relationship. Her partner pinches her hips when she gains weight, things like that. She internalizes it and blames herself and that’s sad to watch but unfortunately fairly accurate for a many people in toxic relationships.

Norlyska is a very cold place, it feels like it’s based on Russia with a cold so deep and penetrating that it’s rumored to freeze lungs and shatter teeth. Women didn’t used to work, but after a long drawn-out war that slaughtered a large portion of the male population, women entered the workforce and started working in factories and other businesses. But, that mentality hasn’t taken over the whole country and there are pockets where it’s still unthinkable that a woman have a career. Kat has entered the military with the intention of being a secretary but is told that she’s going to enter front lines as an experiment.

As far as magic and fantasy aspects, there are memory stones that people can use to absorb new knowledge quickly. However this can also be taken to an extreme by downloading entire personality into a stone. Everything that person is will reside in the stone and then someone else can wear it. If the person wearing the stone has a weaker personality than the stone itself, the person can go insane. They can also have personality traits that rub off on those who are wearing them, making them smarter, wittier, angrier etc. It’s a really neat concept and I also like how this sort of info is delivered. We get little tidbits about the world at the start of each chapter. I can’t stand long info dumps, but I don’t mind cliff-note world-building via in-world books/academics when it’s outside of the narrative and dialogue.

The first chapter of this had me really doubting whether I was going to finish this book or not, then after the very jarring first chapter it calmed down a bit and I was able to get excited about the world building. I also found that Kat was a much more relatable and “better” person than Gen if you’re going to make comparisons. So there was a break from the bleak fuckedupness that can be Gen which made it a little more tolerable for me. I have to be in the mood for grimdark, and that mood hasn’t struck me in a while unfortunately. The pacing was pretty great, there was always something happening that’s for sure. The writing was very stylized and had a ton of imagery that may or may not work for you… I’ve got to admit that a fair number of these sort of things did not work for me.

“He looked at Gen through the web he’d made and gave his sad smile. Like an erection on a dog.”

“She didn’t want to lick every part of him, bite that pert apple of an ass…”

Norylska Groans

If you don’t like grim worlds, with fucked up characters, cursing (fuck is used 237 times), or dark themes just do yourself a favor and skip right over this one, lol. However, if that description intrigues you, and you want to see just how dark you can go or how much viscera you can tolerate — this one will be for you.


  • Plot: 11/15
  • Characters: 11/15
  • World building: 13/15
  • Writing: 12/15
  • Pacing: 11/15
  • Originality: 12/15
  • Enjoyment: 2/10

Esme’s Final Score: 72/100 or 7.2/10 for SPFBO