Norylska Groans by Michael R. Fletcher and Clayton W. Snyder (Book Review + Interview!)
This book is what happens when a Grimdark duo gets ahold of whiskey and unlimited access to Zoom. For fans of the subgenre, Norylska Groans reframes classic motifs in an industrial-era world unlike any other I’ve read thus far. Worldbuilding-wise, the closest I can compare it to is Joe Abercrombie’s new trilogy, but that fails to include the Russian influences (something I haven’t seen since Bradley Beaulieu’s Winds of Khalakovo).
I really enjoyed how each author brought their own skills to the table. Longtime readers of Fletcher and Snyder will get to see how each builds off the other’s strengths.
Do you enjoy unique magic systems? Fans of Manifest Delusions can expect another great system from Fletcher:
A veneficum is part sorcerer, part alchemist, and part psychologist. Theirs is the art of drawing memories and personality traits from people and storing them in stone. In polite society they are therapists, dedicated to helping people. They draw out painful memories and dangerous traits so their patients may lead healthy, productive lives. The stones storing dangerous and The stones storing dangerous and unhealthy memories and traits are destroyed.
But there is a dark side to the art. What is stored in stone can be accessed by anyone touching it. Back-alley veneficum buy or steal pleasant memories and useful personality traits from the desperate to sell to the powerful and hawk cheap stones to the poor. Bravery. Inventiveness. Compassion. What is surprising, however, is the demand for less savoury memories and traits.
What ‘bout weathered veterans? You like those? Snyder’s got your back. His PoV, Genndy, brings to mind such byronic standouts as Clay Cooper (Eames), Logan Ninefingers (Joe ABC), and Jackal (Jonathan French). The man will do anything for his family, even if it brings him into the city’s criminal circles.
Offsetting Genndy is Fletcher’s PoV, Katyushka. She’s a young woman seeking work as a secretary for the public service, but finds herself conscripted into the local peacekeeping force.
Don’t expect this to be a far-flung adventure or wide-spanning political thriller. This is very much a picaresque, bottom-up kind of book that focuses foremost on characters and how they just get by. Think in terms of Dragon Age 2.
As a whole, the ambience and worldbuilding will appeal to readers of Daniel Polansky (Low Town) and Peter McLean (Priest of Bones).
My complaints are few. I remember once or twice a random fight would break out for the slightest provocation. Not a bad thing for Grimdark, but it did seem especially irrational during the sit-down scene. My other quibbles pale in comparison to the overwhelming number of reasons to read this book. I’ll leave you with this:
She first heard those words from a retired soldier, days before father brought them north. That was three years ago. One night in Kievan’s northern-most coal mining city and she understood. Norylska was never silent. The smelting furnaces worked night and day, belching smoke and soot. A constant flow of coal wagons, hauled by massive aurochs, rumbled the streets, shaking the walls with their passing. The reducing-factories growled and screamed like rusting grinders, turning the paraceratherium and other megafauna of the ancient Taymyr Forest into the fat, oil, meat, and furs Kievan relied on. The cold shrank wood and iron, squeezing it in an icy fist. Douse the fires of the furnaces, stop every coal and meat wagon, freeze every person motionless, from the highest chancellor to the lowest prostitute, and Norylska would still moan under the crushing pressure.
Editor’s Note: David also sat down with Clayton and Michael for a conversation about Norylska Groans, watch it below: