Friday, 5 June 2015

Book Review - Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

When belief defines reality, those with the strongest convictions - the crazy, the obsessive, the delusional - have the power to shape the world.

And someone is just mad enough to believe he can create a god...

Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken-men and women whose delusions manifest. Sustained by their own belief - and the beliefs of those around them - they can manipulate their surroundings. For the High Priest Konig, that means creating order out of the chaos in his city-state, leading his believers to focus on one thing: helping a young man, Morgen, ascend to become a god. 

A god they can control.

Trouble is, there are many who would see a god in their thrall, including the High Priest's own doppelgangers, a Slaver no one can resist, and three slaves led by possibly the only sane man left.

As these forces converge on the boy, there's one more obstacle: time is running out. Because as the delusions become more powerful, the also become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. 

The question, then, is: Who will rule there?

I like being a reviewer. It has many perks, and it enables me to read widely across a genre that I love. One of the downsides however is that I don't often get time to read as many unknown authors as I would usually like. So when Beyond Redemption popped up onto my radar I was curious, but also resigned to the fact that I probably wouldn't get to it for ages. Then something awesome happened. Michael kindly offered to send me an advanced readers copy, so I decided to give it a whirl on a whim (and the fact I had just finished another book and had yet to start my next). And damn... I'm glad I did. 

I mentioned perks earlier. Well the best perk is when you stumble across an unknown writer whose work just blows you away. 

Beyond Redemption is, and I don't say this lightly, one the most original, thought provoking, and hellishly dystopian dark fantasies that I have read in ages. It is also disturbing, disgusting, and action packed. And god I loved it!

It is in this dark and brutal setting that we meet Bedeckt and his companions Stehlen and Wichtig. Fleeing from a score gone wrong and down on their luck, they inadvertently learn of High Priest Konig's mad scheme to create a new god by helping a child called Morgen ascend. At the spur of the moment they decide to kidnap Morgen, and offer him up for what they hope will be a hefty payday. This mission won't be easy however. Konig is a powerful Gefahrgeist (sociopath), and he and Morgen are surrounded by an army of other Geisteskranken in one of the most protected cities in all the lands. 

From the very first pages of Beyond Redemption I was drawn into the bleak, cramped and depressing world that Fletcher had created. The Gods, after countless wars and many deaths, have abandoned humanity to their fate. In turn, humanity, in its desperation to cling to anyone who still has any belief left, has created individuals whose mental illnesses can alter the very fabric of reality. These Geisteskranken, with their many different beliefs and delusions, form the backbone of Fletcher's world. We are introduced to an incredible range and breadth of Geisteskranken throughout this book, ranging from Gefahrgeists, whose ability to manipulate and control those around them makes Professor X. look neutered and lame, through to Kleptics (kleptomaniacs), who theoretically, at their pinnacle of their power, could steal your heart right out of your chest without you noticing. The catch, however is that all Geisteskranken are destined to implode and be swallowed by their own delusions one day. They are all also bound by the inverse square law in Fletcher's universe. The closer you are to a Geisteskranken, the stronger the effect of their delusions are. The further away you get, the weaker these delusions become. When reading this I was struck by how original this concept of 'magic' was. In fact, one of the most impressive things about Beyond Redemption is the length that Fletcher has gone to in order to fully flesh out his universe. There were plenty of gory details to lap up as I read, such as the fact that Geisteskranken could be made via emotional or physical trauma such as torture or rape, or that a Cotardist's belief actually made them undead machines (and the perfect assassins!). The continued introduction of all of these strange and weird ideas kept me enthralled, and I adored how nothing was static about the universe in this book (despite the fact that the world feels and sounds old with Fletcher's use of Germanic terms) Landscapes could be changed, and cities altered dramatically by the sheer will of many. One such instance occurs when Konig and his followers turn a dilapidated town and its barren setting into a pristine and religious stronghold just by believing it. This made the world building in Beyond Redemption fluid and incredibly amazing. 

Fletcher's characterisation is also impressive. All of the characters in Beyond Redemption are multifaceted, layered, and incredibly rendered. This is another strength of Fletcher's writing. I was drawn to Bedeckt, Wichtig, and Stehlen from the start, and their motley relationship as a group is one of the highlights of the book. Bedeckt, as one of the few sane characters of importance, struggled daily to keep his Geisteskranken companions (Wichtig is a minor Gefahrgeist who believes himself to be the best swordsman in the lands, and Stehlen is a powerful and very violent Kleptic) together and on task. In fact the mental image of a tired and haggard medical physician working in an insane asylum came to mind whenever I thought of Bedeckt. The groups broken dynamic kept me enthralled as they attempted to kidnap Morgen, with their bickering and fighting a source of much humour and entertainment. However, as they bundled from one mishap to another, such as Stehlen murdering an entire temple of Konig's priests on a whim, I found myself hoping that they would unite and find redemption. And therein lies the magic of Fletcher's writing. I cared about these characters. I felt pity and sorrow for them all, including Konig's servants and followers who were trapped under his thrall. I wanted characters like Gehirn (a powerful Hassebrand or pyromaniac) to find peace from all the trauma she suffered at the hands of her father as a child. I even wanted Morgen to remain untainted and to ascend to godhood in order to make the world a better place. I wanted the end game to be an improvement on the present. And by the end of Beyond Redemption each character does change, but not in the way you might expect. And that's the point I think Fletcher vividly makes. The Geisteskranken can't be fixed (just like mental illness in our own world). They can merely learn to adapt, accept, and live with their circumstances. Konig is also depicted wonderfully as the main antagonist, and I loved reading how his mind became more and more fractured and twisted as he became more and more powerful. The appearance of his dopplegangers, each a representation of an emotion from his battered mind, had me shaking my head in awe. 

The action and pacing in Beyond Redemption is also brilliantly executed. Fletcher showcases a real knack for writing interesting and bloody fights and battles in this book, and I absorbed all of these clashes like one of the mob watching a gladiatorial fight in Ancient Rome. Each event was unique and interesting in its own way, and I adored the grittiness that was woven into the confrontations. One particular scene that stands out as was when Bedeckt, Wichtig, and Stehlen stumble upon the Mehrere (schizophrenic) guarding Morgen's chambers. Mehrere, as schizophrenics, believe they are more than one person. So in Fletcher's world, they actually are! One foe suddenly turned into hundreds, and the chaos and violence that followed was awesome to read. The pacing is also fast and well balanced. Fletcher effectively pairs his detailed world building with a story that unfolds at breakneck speed, and at no stage did I feel the plot bog or slow down. The conclusion was also very satisfying, and I cannot wait to see where Fletcher goes next with this story. 

In fact, I'm really struggling to find anything negative to say about Beyond Redemption. It is dark fantasy at its finest, with an original and highly fascinating universe that just blew my mind to mush over and over again. 

Beyond Redemption is one of the most mind bending, gory, and twisted reads I've had since I first stumbled across a newbie by the name of Joe Abercrombie back in the day. Set to land on June 16th, Beyond Redemption is highly recommended to all dark fantasy fans with a functioning brain and beating heart!

5 out of 5 stars! 

A review copy was provided. 

Beyond Redemption will be available from all good bookstores and online retailers from June 16th. For more information see the links listed below. 

1 comment:

  1. Damn, why didn't I get to this sooner? I've been sitting on a digital ARC for about 6 months now, and was waiting for closer to the release date to give it a try. Really looking forward to it now.