Damn it. I said I wasn't going to start reviewing books again, but I had to talk about this book, because like Zachary Jernigan's Shower of Stones, Michael R. Fletcher takes the themes of gods and madness and twists it all around in such a way as to intrigue me. Any similarities between the two novels ends there.
In Jernigan's world, the mortals defied a mad god.
In Fletcher's world, the mortals seek to create a god.
And what an intriguing world it is.
The old gods were broken by wars and plagues of the mind, left reeling like the most bloodied veterans. Infected with horror at the cost of their actions, they retreated into dementia ... Seeking to free themselves, they fled to a world of delusion, a world uncorrupted by jealousies and psychoses. And yet, in the end, even this they would pollute.
While Shower of Stones was a serious story that took itself seriously, there is something very tongue-in-cheek about Fletcher's Beyond Redemption. That's not to say that it's comedy, but as I read the novel, I couldn't help but envision Fletcher winking at me from behind the scenes and saying, "It's not really real, you know ... but what if ..."
Dreams became nightmares, and nightmares became reality, stalking the earth as albtraum, manifestations of man's earliest fears given flesh.
Or maybe that was just my delusion.
Let me explain ...
"Belief defines reality," said Wichtig, as if explaining to a simpleton. "I believe I will be the Greatest Swordsman in the World."
Beyond Redemption is dark--not gory, but I would slide it to the grimdark side of the ruler, borderline horror in places--I want to make that clear from the beginning. However, if you are reading this blog, my assumption is that you have already come to the dark side, so here ... have a cookie that bites:
Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn't an axiom, it's a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.
Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken--men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.
But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest's own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates--The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left--have their own nefarious plans for the young god.
As these forces converge on the boy, there's one more obstacle: time is running out. When one's delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is: Who will rule there?
Beyond Redemption begins with three thieves: Bedeckt, an old grizzled warrior, who prides himself on his sanity; Wichtig, a minor Gefahrgeist (Sociopath), who is determined to become the Greatest Swordsman in the World; and Stehlen, a Kleptic with some serious anger management issues.
If I ever take up cosplaying, I'm coming as Stehlen. Beware.
When faced with a Gefahrgeist, set aside your honesty. Truth will be turned against you. Today's truth will be tomorrow's lie and you will be left questioning your own sanity. This too is manipulation ... Gefahrgeist often wear the mask of sanity. This makes them dangerous. This makes them successful ...
Bedeckt, who believes he is the brains behind the operation, decides he needs one last scam to take him into retirement. It turns out that Konig, Theocrat of the Geborene Damonen and an extremely powerful Gefahrgeist (remember they're sociopaths--Konig means king in German ... see how this works?), is busy creating a god.
Konig's plan is to cultivate the populace's beliefs so that his god-child becomes reality. This god-child is being raised to be subservient to Konig, who will help the boy ascend into the Afterdeath where the god-child will serve Konig in order to prevent Konig's delusions from taking over his body.
Konig knows his time is short. Three of his emotions have taken corporeal form as the Doppels Acceptance, Trepidation, and Abandonment (think: doppelgänger and you're on track). The stronger a person's delusions, the more difficult they are to control. As Konig's power over the populace grows, so do his delusions, which become more dangerous to him and to one another.
I heard a knock, and when I answered the door, there I was. Luckily I think much faster on my feet than I do and soon had myself tied in the fruit cellar. I'd kill myself but I'm so damned useful. Sometimes, when the High Priest has texts he wants copied, I'll unchain one of my hands and get me to do some of the work. Of course I do it! I'm so damned bored down there, chained to the wall.
Bedeckt's plan is to kidnap the god-child, Morgen, and ransom him back to Konig, thereby procuring enough gold to retire. This scheme sets off a chain of events that are simultaneously hilarious and dire.
Sanity, Insanity, Genius. Rampant stupidity. Frankly, I can no longer tell them apart.
All the while, Fletcher cleverly pulls and picks at our preconceived notions of religion and belief systems, slyly winking at us from behind the scenes with selected quotes from the historians, philosophers, and kings who inhabit this twisted world. He treats the story with a light hand so that his very irreverence prevents the novel from spiraling into soullessness.
I don't see what I want to see, I see what I need to see. If you don't like it, see something else.
Fletcher's characters--Bedeckt with his desire to retire; Wichtig, who is determined to be the Greatest Swordsman in the World; Stehlen, who isn't exactly as she seems; and Konig, who is racing against his own madness in search of wholeness--are the very thing that redeems Beyond Redemption. Fletcher brings them all to vivid life and shows us their doubts and dreams and foibles with unflinching prose. Simultaneously poetic and brutal, Fletcher executes a deft balancing act between the surreal and the real and yet he never loses sight of his characters' humanity.
The novel is grimdark, and I mean very, very dark, so if you normally avoid this kind of novel, then I wouldn't recommend it to you. However if you're like me, and you enjoy looking under psychological rocks in order to see what breeds there, come along where you will see that ...
The tales are only as dark as the teller.