Welcome to the Semi-Finals stage of SPFBO 6! As you know, we already cut 25 books from our batch of 30 and announced our semi-finalists. Check out my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page for more info!
Following the first and second semi-finalist review, our next up is Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher. We won’t be adding our ratings just yet (I’ll update this post later) to keep the race to the finalist spot interesting. The order of the reviews within a post will be the following: first will be the person who picked the book as a semi-finalist (in this case me), and then the others in alphabetical order.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at our third semi-finalist!
|Series: The Obsidian Path #1||Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark|
|Date of Publishing: March 29th 2020||Publisher: self-published|
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.
I’ve been wanting to read one of Fletcher‘s books for a while now as many of my friends praised his books, but I never quite got around to it. Lady Luck stood by my side and Black Stone Heart got sorted into our group. I took it as a sign and claimed it for myself. In the meantime the audiobook was also released and I got myself a copy of that too to speed things up. Little did I know what was waiting for me.
Black Stone Heart is the story of Khraen, a young (or old, depending on your POV) man in search of his past and the pieces of his obsidian heart. The first person POV makes Black Stone Heart a very intimate read as we tag along Khraen discovering the world and the answers to his questions through him. I generally favor books written in first person, so this aspect was a huge plus for me. There is something raw and powerful in Fletcher‘s writing that makes Khraen’s world to come alive. His thirst for collecting his memories, his hate for wizards bordering on irrational and the many form of magic than inhabit the pages.
I admit I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Khraen, which – to me – shows his complexity as a character. On one hand, I sympathized with him and rooted for him to find his memories or to find his happiness with Shalayn. But as the plot went ahead, he started to make decisions I did not quite understand. His flaws started to come out more and more as he gained his memories and his personality changed with it. It was really intriguing to see that change, I might add. The way he battled with himself, trying to balance his new and old personality. But also, he resents the people of the North for treating him badly due to his dark skin color and old superstitions, but at the same time, he holds a similar prejudice against wizards. Sure, he has a good reason to hate them, but he never stops considering that maybe, just maybe, not every wizard is a traitorous bastard.
Another interesting aspect of Black Stone Heart is Khraen’s struggling with the concept of evil. Is killing people considered evil? And if you do it for your own survival? Or for the good of your people? Does the purpose make the deed excusable? And then, what is evil anyway? What makes Khraen a really memorable character is that the reader can’t really decide on which side he falls on the evil spectrum. I don’t think he knows it either. Characters like him make the Grimdark subgenre so damn intriguing for me. Because I just can’t make up my mind about him and it’s been a while since I’ve read it. Twice in quick succession because damn, Black Stone Heart just makes its way under your skin like a bad itch you can’t get rid of.
My only issue and the reason I didn’t give this book a higher rating is Khraen’s relationships with Henka and Shalayn. I won’t go into details so I won’t spoil anything, but suffice to say, I found his feelings a bit unbelieavable and a bit forced. He told us over and over and over what he felt but it felt more like pep talking himself and not convincing either of us. Though, in retrospect, some things do make sense by the end of the book.
That being said, Fletcher has this way of fucking with your mind, whether you like it or not. There aren’t many big surprising twists – only one that really caught me by surprise and which I should have expected. It is more character driven rather than plot and even then, the Fletcher does not make life easy for them.
Black Stone Heart will make you uncomfortable, will make you question the actions of the characters but will never let you go. Do a favor to yourself and listen to the audiobook narrated by Fletcher himself. If you won’t fall in love with his voice and wish he was reading everything to you from now on, then there is something wrong with you.
Ooh this was a tough one, Khraen is very primal in the beginning of this story. He awakes with fractured memories and is in survivor mode and let me tell you it is not pretty. I have no qualms about death and gore and all that stuff, though I do prefer a crust of hope on my violence, and I really need to like the characters when they’re being despicable. This is pretty dark all around and for that reason it took me quite a while to warm up to this story.
So that said – I am in two places on this book.
One – the fact that the pacing writing, build etc is fabulous. There is almost a treasure hunt feel to this as Khraen looks for and regains pieces of his heart – I always love a good treasure hunt.
It’s all so well-paced, I was always wanting to know more and I loved how each shard of his splintered heart gained us insight as it unfolds the past in all its gory and bloody details. I also loved how each bit of learned past shows us the differences in Khraen and his battle with the person he was, and the one he wanted to become, how it was so prevalent in every decision, and I liked how you could see he was losing ground fast but all he needed to do was make one right decision to gain it back, kind of thing.
Also that dark and on just-this-side-of-inappropriate humor that I adore, increases as the story moves along.
Two – like I said, Black Stone Heart is very dark and goes to some places I am not sure how I feel about but at the same time, I can’t help but admire the storytelling and the craftmanship even if I wasn’t always a fan of the contents. I am not going to forget this book anytime soon. I remember reading Beyond Redemption by this author years ago and feeling the same way. I still can picture scenes from that book, it left such an impression with me.
The writing is clear and without baggage – the style I love the most with carefully chosen words. It says what it needs too without a lot of superfluous descriptions to bog it all down (unlike this review) and there are some very memorable lines.
I also have to admire the summary which again with the word choices says it all without saying a word about the story.
The few things I was iffy about (outside of the one really obvious one… blech) had to do with some of the side-characters, and that I wasn’t really too surprised by anything with Henka or anyone else. I should point out that I don’t think there always needs to be some big jaw-dropping moment. I think the point of this story was more about the battle within himself and not big plot twists. But at the same time, I do think that it shouldn’t feel like an attempt at a twist is being orchestrated, and this did feel that way just a little at times – if that makes sense?
Anyway, like my previous read from Fletcher, Black Stone Heart will be sticking in my head for a long while.
Full disclosure, I’ve read a couple of Michael R. Fletcher’s book before Black Stone Heart. Also full disclosure, I enjoyed both of those books a great deal. So I had a feeling that I would like this one too based on my previous experience with this author. At the same time, each book stands on its own and they should be taken as a separate experience. So I went into this one with a clean slate and waited to see how things would unfold and if I would like what I read.
I found upon turning the final page of Fletcher’s Black Stone Heart that my suspicions were indeed correct. This book was infused with all of the hallmarks that I’ve become familiar with, intense action, witty dialogue, and really cool magic. I will also say that this book is significantly darker than most books out there, and that’s really saying something when you are talking about an author who dabbles in darkness the way that Fletcher. Even by his standards, this one goes in some pretty disturbing places.
Be that as it may, the story is just so incredibly intriguing and multi-layered that it all feels necessary in the grand scheme of things. As with the previous books I read by Fletcher, the characters are morally ambiguous and you really don’t know who are necessarily the protagonists and who you should be rooting for. Call me crazy but I think Fletcher likes it that way and it is surely by design. This is so refreshing in a genre where everyone fits into a neat box and many of the characters we meet are of the cookie-cutter variety.
The world-building is some of the best you will come across and this just added to my enjoyment of the overall story. It made an amazing backdrop for the dark necromancy and sorcery that reveals itself chapter after tantalizing chapter. In the end, I gave this one my highest score of our group’s bunch because in my opinion it is stronger across the board in every area than the rest. A wonderful book that I recommend everyone check out if you are tired of “safe” fantasy that takes no chances. Black Stone Heart pushes the boundaries and makes you beg for more after the final page is turned.
Black Stone Heart! What a book this was to read, as soon as I saw this was in our group for the SPFBO I was excited and when it was semi-final pick I was overjoyed! Black Stone Heart is part of The Obsidian Path series, set in a bizarre new world that was explored in an earlier work, A Collection of Obsessions. This is the first full length novel in that series.
This is a book that does not shy away, it is a grimdark novel to the full but only in the way that Michael R Fletcher can deliver. We follow the story of one Khraen, who has just woken up and is starving. He doesn’t really remember much after dying, all he is aware of and steadily realises is he is being drawn towards the scattered pieces of his obsidian heart.
This is a story about the villain, an interesting study of a dark character as he realises who and what he is through a journey of self discovery. It’s not a pleasant journey, if you are familiar with Fletcher then he does not hold back in his writing. This is a good story though, it feels personal when you read it and I felt strongly for Khraen and what he may or may not become.
The book is brilliantly written, it twists and turns and with the usual delights of a Fletcher novel, but explores a dark part of the mind in a way that that is brilliant to read. For sure it was disturbing in places and the violence is there, but this will not disappoint you as a reader. Fletcher has delivered a consistent tone and writing style so far and this a book that will satisfy veterans as well as new readers, I have to admit that I will be checking out the next book eagerly as Khraen is such an intriguing character. This is another book that is worthy of being in the SPFBO semi final!
For more SPFBO content, please visit my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page!