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Smoke and Stone by Michael R. Fletcher

Smoke and Stone by Michael R. Fletcher
4.25
Book Name: Smoke and Stone
Author: Michael R. Fletcher
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Dark Fantasy
Release Date: September 9, 2019

Smoke and Stone is a grimdark story about two young people who live at opposite ends of their caste system. Both believe one of the gods has chosen them to carry out their desires to improve life in their city. What ensues is not only the beginning of rebellion amongst each caste, but also the coming of a war amongst the gods with the mortals suffering all the consequences.

The two protagonists are each other’s antagonist. Akachi is the son of the High Priest of Cloud Serpent and he was trained to follow in his father’s footsteps. He was born and raised in the Priests’ Ring, the elite caste for mortals, within the city of Bastion. Akachi is assigned to be an interim pastor at one of the Cloud Serpent temples in the Growers Ring, the poorest caste. Reluctantly, he agrees with hopes of gaining the respect from his father and everyone else within the Priests’ Ring.

Nuru is an untrained sorcerous who resides in the Growers’ Ring. She lives in an abandoned house with the friends she grew up with, who have abandoned the “lifestyle” expected of them. Nuru and her friends form a gang and commit petty crimes in order to survive. She has vivid dreams of a spider with a woman’s body, and she’s had it so many times she decides to make a stone carving using her meager set of carving tools. Nuru is convinced this carving, this spider, will change the circumstances of herself and her friends.

The protagonists are with their companions throughout the story. Akachi is accompanied by his friend, Nafari; Jumoke, another acolyte; and, a squad of fighters led by Captain Yejide whom Akachi soon develops feelings for. Nuru lives with her friends: Chisulo, Omari, Bomani, Happy, and Isabis—Nuru’s pet viper. One character who becomes critical to the plot and its development is a Grower girl named Efra. Efra stays with Nuru and her friends from time-to-time. She is known for her wild and astute demeanor, and for a hideous facial scar. All of these minor characters are essential because they determine the lengths the protagonists go to in order to achieve their ambitions and to protect their friends from harm.

This grimdark story incorporates the harsh realities of our own history and culture. In addition to sorcery, gods and visions, the author focuses on how both Akachi and Nuru see themselves within the realm of Bastion. Nuru longs for a better life for herself and her friends. She believes those who live in the Inner Rings have underestimated everyone in the Growers’ Ring for too long. Akachi—while a typical adolescent male who is eager to please his father—gets a very rude awakening as to how those who reside in the Outer Rings live with their limited resources. Even though he is horrified with all of the atrocities, he consoles himself by reminding himself over and over that “it is all the will of the gods.” Smoke and Stone stands out because it does an excellent job presenting characters who are victims of their circumstances and who are determined to make changes within Bastion.

Fletcher demonstrates foreshadowing in one of the most creative ways I’ve seen in a long time. Without giving too much away, readers will figure out what the city of Bastion is, from its structure to its purpose. Readers should be able to figure it out by the time one of the protagonists comes to the same conclusion. The story the author is telling is the cycle of use and abuse everyone in Bastion experiences. The poorer Rings are exploited by the richer Rings; the desperation of the wealthier Rings to maintain power and control over others: including those within their own Ring; and, how the (immortal) gods continue to exploit the mortals who may or may not worship them. Everyone is exploiting everyone, and the price is paid in blood.

Fletcher is analyzing the harsh truth of both the caste system and theocracy. While it becomes obvious of how badly all of the mortals are treated by one another, it is clear the gods have always maintained absolute power. Anyone who is familiar with mythology and/or fantasy, or any other stories involving gods, know that gods are dependent on their worshippers, but they are willing to manipulate them for their needs as well. Smoke and Stone is the latest story to include this trope, but the author is incorporating all of the conflict and the bloodshed that comes with it.

Smoke and Stone is well-written—including the map of Bastion—however, a further explanation of the different types of sorcery and magic used by everyone in the story within a would have enriched it even more. The story demonstrates the anger that comes from oppression and lack of control, all while reminding readers to beware the attention of the gods. The next book in the City of Sacrifice series looks to be very promising. Readers will want to pick up book two, Ash and Bone, as soon as it’s released!

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