A broken man, Khraen awakens alone and lost. His stone heart has been shattered, littered across the world. With each piece, he regains some small shard of the man he once was.
He follows the trail, fragment by fragment, remembering his terrible past.
There was a woman.
There was a sword.
There was an end to sorrow.
Khraen walks the obsidian path.
Black Stone Heart is the start of a dark, mysterious trilogy from the mind behind ‘Beyond Redemption’ and it seems to me like Fletcher’s up to his old tricks … and has brought some new ones with him as well; there’s grim, grim murders and butchery, great magics and the confronting of inner demons in a very physical manner that warps into a book full of character. It tugs, claws and pulls you in with its decaying, putrid hands.
The plot, in very basic form, sees Khraen with flashing, fleeting memories of his past. Awake and out of the grave for the first time in many years; he doesn’t know who he is or how he got there, but he does feel the pull of his obsidian shards. Each shard a part of his heart, each shard restoring a part of the man he was. He is on a quest to find them, even if they’re in the form of doppelgangers that won’t let him just take them. Along the way he falls in love, a few times; befriends a necromancer; nurtures his unnatural, mysterious hatred for wizards; gets drunk – a lot – and becomes particularly good at butchering human flesh (yeah, don’t ask). It is grimdark in a very Fletcher way and, even though it would outwardly appear like Khraen is a villain, he’s incredibly likeable. I guess it would suggest a lot about the author’s ability to write good characters or the reader’s ability to relate to bad … no, it’s definitely good writing.
Khraen. He’s shrouded in mystery with memories of a grand Empire and great magics he could wield, or at least he thought so. The presence of this lost power, and the willingness to rip open his own heart to get at that is quite something; I loved the contrast between what he was and what he is now. And the question that looms: Should he even try to get that back? The difference in morality is stark, and in the short snippets of memory that we get, it is clear to see that they’re two different people, with a gulf of differing reason between them. Khraen feels he knows what’s right, and his past self … had opposite values, it would seem. Even so, there’s an undeniable compulsion to ‘fix himself’ and, perhaps, the ridiculous notion that he could control the person he becomes despite the evidence to suggest otherwise.
This reminded me of Beyond Redemption in the way that Khraen must quite literally confront the parts of himself he doesn’t like; facing one’s own demons is quite different when they fight back – and remember more of yourself than you do. These are mental states realised in the physical or could be construed as such. I like the fact that this flips the usual journey an MC takes on its head. We see main character’s confront themselves in a very metaphorical way, usually. It’s the physical embodiment of every ‘hero’s’ struggle. Here, the bits about Khraen that need to go, need to be gotten rid of are different manifestations of himself grown out of the obsidian shards he so covets. And I’m here for it. It made for very intriguing reading.
The relationship between Henka and Khaen was atypical. I mean, not in the sense that we’ve got the enemies to lovers trop thrown in there, but in the sense that I had the feeling that they aren’t exactly there for each other, but at the same time entirely devoted to one and other. And in the sense that Henka is an undead necromancer. There’s moments in the book where I felt like, despite how in control Khraen think he is with their situation, and the plans he has, there’s a nagging feeling that he’s not. That he’s more suggestible and vulnerable that he’d like to think, which again, contrasts heavily with that of his past – and isn’t necessarily true, but it’s the feeling that I got and created a cool dynamic.
Overall, I really did love this book. I started it two days ago and here I am straight after I finished it, typing a review. Go read it – I know my next move is to immediately start the next instalment, She Dreams in Blood, that Mr Fletcher has kindly provided me an ARC for.