Smoke and Stone by Michael R Fletcher

It is a dark tale full of unconventional ideas with that special kind of madness that only Fletcher can provide.
Smoke and Stone book cover

“Humanity brought itself to the brink of utter destruction and the gods built this bastion, took in the few survivors, and sheltered them from the world they’d killed.”

Twenty-five thousand years has passed since the walled city of Bastion was created. The whole of mankind lives within this city of stone for protection against the cataclysmic wasteland beyond. Bastion is built of concentric circles with walls between each ring, and passages between these rings are closely guarded by warrior priests. The farmers make up the outer ring; this is the most populated region but also the most heavily oppressed class of people. Each ring closer to the center has a little more freedom, a little more wealth, and is a little closer to the gods. Class divide could not be more literal than this.  

When Bastion was built, there was a war of the gods, and only a few survived within the city walls. These gods ascended to the pantheon of the city, becoming the mainstay religion for all mankind. Priests are dispatched to lead the people into lives of holiness, but not everyone agrees with the how these traditions are upheld.

Drugs are the spark that fuels the inferno of power in this city. The book has its own glossary of hallucinogens and herbs, and whatever equates to a DMT-laced cocktail of psilocybin and LSD allows the imbiber to enter a lucid dream-state, or even talk to their god. Power and abilities are pulled from smoke or stone, depending on where your allegiance lies. As you may have gleaned by now, the world-building is as detailed as it is impressive.

Even more impressive is how well the characters are developed for a cast of substantial size. There are only two POVs in this story: Akachi, a newly-minted pastor of a run-down church in a dangerous district, and Nuru, a gang member and street sorcerer trying to survive in a world where showing any form of individuality can be punishable by death. We alternate chapters throughout the book and learn much about what drives them both, but we also get to know their respective crews well enough where I felt strongly connected with many of these supporting characters. And since this is a Michael Fletcher book, we all know that there will be a happy ending for everyone, right? Right. At one point there was so much blood I think some spilled off the page and stained my hands red.

While Fletcher’s grim tales certainly aren’t for everyone, he remains one of my favorite authors, and Smoke and Stone keeps that streak alive. It is a dark tale full of unconventional ideas with that special kind of madness that only Fletcher can provide. Bring on the sequel.

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