#SPFBO Review: Norylska Groans by Michael R Fletcher and Clayton W Snyder


Stage 2 of the  SPFBO competition is now well underway and the Critiquing Chemist and I have been reading the finalists.  Today we post our review for our fifth finalist Norylska Groans by Michael R Fletcher and Clayton W Snyder.  Don’t forget to stop over to the Critiquing Chemist to check out their review.


Norylska Groans is perhaps one of the darkest books I’ve read for some time.  Having read both Fletcher and Snyder previously I think I was quite well prepared for the grimfest but for those of you who haven’t read them before I will start this review with a simple ‘heads up’.  This is not for the faint of heart.  That is all.  You have been warned.

In a nutshell this is an alternate history, low fantasy set in a Russian-style-industrial-revolution-era city.  We follow two characters who end up on opposing sides, both simply trying to survive in a world that takes no prisoners and neither of them totally happy with the paths they have followed.  Again, before I say anything further about the plot or writing I must say that I absolutely loved the magic system that these authors have come up with, it’s fascinating, unique and rife with possibility.

Firstly, the characters.  We follow Katyushka Leonova and Genndy Antonov as they take desperate measures in order to try and eke out a better way of life.  Gen, having lost his job resorts to work with the crime syndicate where is role becomes one of violent enforcer.   Gen was a soldier, he now suffers from PTSD and he seems to go into an all consuming rage when embroiled in a fight. Kat seeks work as a secretary but is instead forced into a job with the militia in a strange turn of events.  Kat doesn’t exactly have a wonderful homelife and the rigours of her new job actually start to appeal more to  her than playing the meek and dutiful wife to her insufferable husband.  I have to say that I found myself preferring Kat’s storyline, although the two of them worked very well together when they eventually crossed paths and I particularly enjoyed having a bird’s eye view from two opposing camps.

The world building was solid.  It’s easy to imagine the place, the filth (caused by excessive mining), the grime, the oppression.  It’s a dog eat dog world.  The poor live in ramshackle abodes, shantytowns with makeshift homes thrown together and barely standing.  On top of this the story takes place over winter and there seems to be a constant barrage of snow, ice, slush and just your basic sub-zero and rather unpleasant conditions.  It’s a world of poverty, life is cheap and the poor are plenty.

As I already mentioned I love the magic system.  There are memory stones which serve a dual purpose.  They can imbue the person wearing the stone with the memories of those who wore the stone previously along with storing new memories as each new wearer uses the stone,  When the stone is removed the wearer no longer remembers their actions – which certainly gives a whole new meaning to the ethos of ‘not taking your work home with you’.  There is also the possibility of stones being used to help the wearer feel more confident, or aggressive, etc depending on the combinations used.  I’m probably not describing this very well but it is impressive and it has multiple opportunities for storylines and feeds particularly well into the storyline here.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I think I could have used a little less detail on the torture – that’s just me and maybe I’m a bit squeamish – but I felt there was a little too much and that combined with the overall large slice of grim reality definitely felt at times a little bit relentlessly dark. I’m not saying that the violence and bloodshed is gratuitous because it actually fits well with the setting and the theme of crime lords and their brutal retributions – just, maybe, give me an idea of just how brutal this world is once and I’ll take that on board and keep it firmly in mind. The plot itself also felt a little light – to be honest, that’s not so much a criticism as a statement because this felt more like a slice of life fantasy and I have to say I had no problems reading it.

Overall,I found Norylska Groans a compelling read and if you love grimdark then this has got to be your next read.

I received a copy from the authors for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 7 out of 10 or or 3.5 out of 5 for Goodreads.


2 Responses to “#SPFBO Review: Norylska Groans by Michael R Fletcher and Clayton W Snyder”

  1. Tammy

    The magic system does sound fascinating! And torture is always tough for me too. This might be a little too grim for me.

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Your description of this novel makes any Abercrombie work sound like a kindergarten picnic! 😀 Jokes aside, this might prove a bit too grim even for me…

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