Today is my stop on the blog tour for ‘Norylska Groans’ by Michael R. Fletcher and Clayton W. Snyder organised by Storytellers on Tour.
I hope that you will check out the book and the authors, and enjoy the rest of the tour with the schedule in the banner below or (HERE).
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
with the weight of her crimes. In a city where winter reigns amid the fires of industry and war, soot and snow conspire to conceal centuries of death and deception.
and the weight of a leaden sky threatens to crush her people. Katyushka Leonova, desperate to restore her family name, takes a job with Norylska’s brutal police force. To support his family, Genndy Antonov finds bloody work with a local crime syndicate.
with the weight of her dead. As bodies fall, the two discover a foul truth hidden beneath layers of deception and violence: Come the thaw, what was buried will be revealed.
Norylska Groans was a book that hopped immediately onto my TBR as soon as I heard about it, for one I just loved the sound of it, and two I had just finished Black Stone Heart and needed more of Fletcher’s writing. I haven’t read any of Snyder’s other books (YET – that will soon be changing), but I’d heard enough to have really high hopes for this book, so when the chance to participate in this tour came around it was the perfect excuse to bump it up to the top of the TBR and I’m so glad I did because oh god I loved every moment of this book.
The title had intrigued me from the start, but I wasn’t prepared for how it really cut to the heart of this book and the spirit of the titular city itself. The worldbuilding throughout was fantastic, but the standout aspect for me was the realisation of Norylska. There was a discussion on Twitter the other week about how the world or a set location can and perhaps should be a character in and of itself, and this was that, but dialled up to another level, to the point where you didn’t need to close your eyes to imagine yourself on the streets of the city or surrounded by the people eking out an existence there. It was so vivid, that it came to life between the pages – and while I have to say it’s certainly never going to be on my holiday destination list – it feels as though for a time at least, I did live there amongst the snow and the dirt, and the messiness of life on the edge.
Norylska is a crucible.
It’s a cold, brutal place that feeds on the lives of those who call it home, it demands strength – with the penalty being death if you show weakness, and it takes everything warm and human and twists it into barbs that can be used against those who manage to survive. It was also our gateway to the wider world of the book, and it showed the indelible stains and influence of that world – of war and industry and politics, of choices made by individuals and the state, have come together both in the city and in the individuals that lived there. I also liked that we were given a real sense of history because of this, and through combining the present and the past, and the use of flashbacks to aid in this was masterfully done.
The other standout from the worldbuilding is the magic system. Norylska Groans is a low fantasy, and the magic system reflects that in its subtlety, and that in no way detracts from just how potent this system is. It was also, in my opinion, a wonderful reflection of everything that Norylska is because this magic deals primarily with personality and memory, something that is woven into the very fabric of the city and the story. The idea of a system that through the use of stones imbued with memories or attributes, to alter something as fundamental to the concept of self was terrifying in its own right, and that was before we are shown the risks of using those stones. It’s a system that you cannot fully appreciate until you read for yourself because it is so interwoven with the rest of the story, but it is a wonderfully unique system, that will enthral you and have shivers running down your spine.
The city, the world, the past and the present are all messy and gritty, and fighting just to survive, and it is in this crucible Fletcher and Snyder deliver a powerful character-driven story. This isn’t a world of black and white mentalities, or even shades of grey really, because shades indicate choice – and our two main protagonists are not in situations where there is the luxury of ‘choice’, at least not beyond surviving or choosing to lay down and die. Genndy and Katyushka are the embodiment of everything Norylska and the world represents, they’re scarred by it, shaped by it, and forced to play its game just to survive one day more, and in many ways, this is where this book is it’s most brutal because these are characters that we get to know. We’re shown their scars and gaping wounds, we know what they yearn for, the hopes that make the reality all the starker – and we see what Norylska does to them, and it’s not quick and it’s not gentle. It breaks them, shatters them, and it’s not quick, but slow and brutal and violent, and this perhaps is where the darkness might become too much for some readers. However, it is proportionate to the world that has been created, and it was in those moments, in the moments furthest from the light, that the characters shone the brightest, and it’s impossible not to become invested in their stories, to feel their slow destruction, to bleed with them.
What I really adored about Norlyska Groans, and what made it so compelling from page one was the writing. It was the layers upon layers that were woven into each scene, the details that brought Norlyska off the page until you were shivering in the snow with the characters, and tasting ash and blood, and feeling as though part of you might be consumed too. I was hooked before I’d even finished the first page, and each word – no matter how shocking or brutal, just drew me further in. The tension was a knife-edge that we’re drawn along, adding to the atmosphere. And it could have been too much. The tension. The brutal nature of this world. Yet it wasn’t because it was balanced beautifully, with moments where the sparks of something close to hope would shine through, or a clever line or touch of humour would give you a moment to breathe before plunging back into the deep end – and honestly I would probably quote the entire book if I can because there are so many wonderful lines, of description and dialogue that will do more than can to show you just how fantastic this book is.
It’s been a while since I had a book hangover this strong, and I think Norylska Groans is a book that takes you by the throat and gives you a good shake while your reading, and then lingers in the back of your mind, haunting you and demanding your attention long beyond that final page. It’s one I already want to reread, just to soak in the atmosphere and the writing, and to look for all the little details that I might have overlooked this first time. Dark. Brutal. Engrossing. I couldn’t get enough of this book and I am delighted that there is more in the works, and you can bet it will be an auto-read from me, and I will be checking out more of Fletcher and Snyder’s works in the interim. If you don’t mind delving into the depths of an unforgiving world, then this is the book for you and I honestly cannot recommend Norylska Groans highly enough. You need to read this book.
About the Authors:
Michael R. Fletcher is a science fiction and fantasy author, a grilled cheese aficionado, and a whiskey-swilling reprobate. He spends his days choreographing his forklift musical (titled “Get Forked”), and using caffeine as a substitute for sanity. Any suggestions that he is actually Dyrk Ashton in disguise are all lies.
Clayton Snyder is the author of SPFBO semi-finalists River of Thieves and The Obsidian Psalm, and a host of other novels. As a hybrid author he has self-published, placed novels with small presses, and had several short stories published, including Mother Time, Father Death, at Helios Quarterly garnering a WSFA nomination. His most recent, Injustice, at Three Crows Magazine, was compared to Gene Wolfe’s work. He currently splits his time between work and writing. He has worked as a systems admin, chainsaw operator, and once did a brief ill-advised stint as a bodyguard.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.