Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher – Get you an author who can do both!
For those of you who don’t know me – I am an absolute audioholic. I run and walk a lot and so I have plenty of time to listen, while actual reading time is often sparse.
This is the reason why I am at times contacted by authors on my friendlist to give a listen to snippets from narrators auditioning for their books.
And then there was this moment when I got a message saying:
“Hi Julia. I’m taking a stab at narrating the Obsidian Path book. I realized that I had all the gear and should at least try. I was wondering if I might pester you for a critique of my performance. This is my first attempt at the prologue and first chapter. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings if it’s awful. I’d much rather that than do the whole book and learn I’m crap at it later.”
To be honest – I was a bit worried, because I’m honest to a fault – and I can be very blunt. So when I started to listen, I was wary as so often authors are bloody awful at narrating. Luckily, I quickly found that I wouldn’t have to go all, “This is horrendous, please don’t torture anyone else with this.” In fact, I really quite liked the first trials I got!
After a bit off back and forth with samples of dialogue and different characters, the project got greenlighted and the deal was struck that I would get the chapters as they were recorded, because now I was obviously hooked and needed to know what would happen next!
Even though I liked it, I was actively looking for anything to complain about, to try and help make this as good an audiobook as possible! At the beginning I found some smallish things I could point to. After the first few chapters however, the audiobook got up to a quality that honestly was so very well done I soon forgot I was trying to find faults and just completely got lost in the story. So, imagine my utter astonishment and frustration when suddenly the story just stopped, as I had run out of finished chapters. And so, on my side the waiting game from one chapter to the next began…
I must say getting an ARC – on in that case rather an ALC – in bits and pieces as it emerges has been really magical. Every day I got home I jumped on my computer to see if there was a new bit of the story waiting for me. And it made my day every time there was!
For me personally this is by far the best Advanced Reading Experience ever, and I am sure I’ll never forget either the book, nor the unique and awesome way it made it onto my Dropbox folder as a little nice surprise every few days.
What’s it even about though?
And now aside from the amazing audio production that didn’t feel different to those I’ve bought from Brilliance or Hachette audio, here’s a bit about the book itself, starting with a little bit from the prologue:
My choices had consequences. Vast consequences.
A kingdom fell. No, I shouldn’t belittle their efforts just because they fall well short of my own accomplishments. An empire fell. People died. A lot of people. Some died peripherally, as a result of my choices. Many died by my own hand. I tore souls from innocent victims to summon and bind hellish creatures. Demons, you’d call them.
I did terrible, terrible things trying to do the right thing.
In “Black Stone Heart” Michael Fletcher has delivered a really dark story that gets deeper the longer you’re in its grasp. Khraen, the main character, starts off knowing basically nothing about himself or the wider world. He is looking for obsidian shards that seem to be holding the secrets of his past. On that quest he slowly starts to explore and learn not just about what happened before, but also about the world. And while we get to follow his plot, and his world, his distinctive voice get stronger and stronger until it feels like you really are inside the story. I especially liked how Khraen feels like a piece of unworked clay and his personality only slowly evolves. Not a bad person, but finding himself alone and without memory he also doesn’t have any imprinted moral code, so it’s very intriguing to see how this character is gaining his own personality. The – expected since this is a book by Michael R. Fletcher – descent into darkness is so naturally and gradually done that you hardly notice how you start to root for someone who definitely is not a hero. But he’s just doing what the situation demands, isn’t he? Is he?
Who was I? The kind of person who thought only of themselves? The kind of person who abandoned those in need?
I realized I’d asked the wrong question. Why let my unknown past define me?
It wasn’t, ‘Who was I?’ but rather, ‘Who am I?’
And still, I hesitated.
Once again Michael Fletcher manages to spellbind you into this grimdark spiral of madness, and yet it feels so very fluent and logical it makes you take a double take at your own thoughts and emotions. The story is perfectly balanced on a fine edge, it holds the reader’s attention all the way as the characters grow, develop and come alive in your mind.
“I am evil,” she whispered. “Damned.” She pushed herself into a sitting position, one shoulder slumped and low. “You should hate me. Loathe me.” She looked away again, glancing toward the fire, eyes narrowing. “You should fear me.”
I didn’t. I couldn’t. I saw something of myself in this broken soul.
“Black Stone Heart” is set in a medieval style world with wizards, necromancers and demons. It’s familiar enough to allow the reader to dive right in, and yet has enough new things to discover, so it always keeps up the interest. And it isn’t limited to just that one plane of existence either…
The sky never changed. The red sun sucked in the purple and black clouds and never moved. Mountains floated by, some bigger, some smaller. Distance was impossible to judge. I couldn’t tell if I was seeing the same ones over and over, maybe at different distances, or if it was new mountains each time.
I can’t recommend this one enough for anyone who likes a book without a clear black and white (or really any black and white) world, and isn’t squeamish about gore, sex and violence in their books.
Expected publishing date is April 1st!
Find out more here:Twitter: @FletcherMR