Michael R. Fletcher – Beyond Redemption (2015) Review

beyond-redemptions

  • Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark
  • Series: Manifest Delusions 1
  • Pages: 480
  • My rating: 8/10

Beyond Redemption is a chilling, stunningly dark fantasy work. In a world where people’s power of belief shapes the actual world, fanatics and sociopaths rise to power, and the mentally ill twist the world around them. Philosophically intriguing, but weak on characters. It’s smarter than its excessive violence would make it seem. Good, but not great (yet).

Fletcher offers a particularly chilling world, which needs some explanation. His objective was to create a story about rare mental disorders, set in a fantasy world. Beyond Redemption is populated by sociopaths, kleptomaniacs and sufferers of rarer disorders like Cotard’s Syndrome (people who believe they are dead or rotting). He added a glossary at the back with short explanations. But that’s not all! This fantasy world is populated by mad gods who infect people with these mental disorders, and these sufferers have a tangible, magical effect on the world around them. The nature of reality in this book is determined by belief, and the stronger people believe in something, the more real it gets. In such a world, the mentally ill and the religious fanatics hold all the power and twist reality around them.

I’ll give an example of the twists and turns of such a story. The people with the most power in this world are the sociopaths. The story opens with the high-priest Konig, who spreads a new religion, because if enough people believe in it, the god will become reality. Konig has delusions, which start manifesting themselves around him. Three Doppelgangers, Abandonment, Acceptance and Trepidation, are aspects of him and manifestations of his delusions in the real world. They comment on his actions and torment him like angels and demons. He fears that his reflections in mirrors are separate from him, and as his delusions grow, those reflections might actually step out of the mirrors.

It’s a shockingly disturbing world where a sociopath’s belief in himself drags people to him or her in blind adoration. Where figuring out someone’s emotional problems is akin to strategy and where it pays to mess up families and so create new mentally ill for future power plays in magic. Where if enough people believe that you are the Greatest Swordsman in the World, it will become so. Where pyromaniacs make people around them combust, and then tell themselves that it didn’t happen because they don’t want to face their delusions.

This is a book about ideas, not characters. It’s not easy to get into. Shocking ideas, yes, a bit similar to R. Scott Bakker’s grim Prince of Nothing series and Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series, but those are better writers to be honest. A philosophically-minded story that is more interested in exploring all the implications of its world-building, like a philosophical argument build up from a set of axioms. But the characters are very vague. They show standard-issue snappy dialogue and don’t really receive good introductions and motivations. And there is so much death in this story, so much killing. People die in almost every short chapter. Makes me wonder how this society even functions. But between all the blood and destruction, I’m desperately searching for a protagonist with a story that I could care for.

beyond-redemption2

Beautiful cover art by Richard Anderson, showing the characters Bedeckt, Wichtig and Stehlen.

The lack of compelling characters is the story’s greatest weakness. But I still felt compelled to keep reading, just to see what kind of disgusting situation Fletcher would offer me next. Emotional disturbances that we are already familiar with in real life, such as people who feed their partners till obesity or people who desire nothing more than to be liked, or people who want to manipulate others, all these traits can already be observed in real life, but in this story they are all magnified. Some people want to be worshipped so much that they collect slaves around them purely with the strength of their need. Most of this story is about disgusting mental slavery of one type of person to another. So, there is immense potential in this story to resonate with real-life tragedies of mental illness, but Fletcher uses it mostly for shock-effect.

For some reason – I’m not sure why – Fletcher uses German verbs and nouns to describe everything, including the characters. The mentally ill are the Geisteskranken, the believers of Konig the Gefahrgeist (sociopath) are called the Geborene (the born). All the characters and cities are named after German words, like the scientist Aufschlag (surcharge) and sister Wegwerfen (throw-away). The problem is, is that if you can read a bit of German, you’ll recognize these names as verbs or nouns and that just confuses everything. The translations do give hints about these people’s roles in the story, so it does serve some purpose. But it would have been easier if the characters had actual German names like Konrad, and cities had names like Heidelberg. Fletcher apologizes in advance to those who can actually read German. In any case, it is a stylistic choice that comes close to overwhelming the text.

He also seems overly fond of the word “shite”, which appears on nearly every page.

All in all, Beyond Redemption is a brilliant piece of world-building and absolutely unique and horrifying. But it feels written by a starting writer who still has to build up some experience and hasn’t found a confident foundation yet. Fletcher is a promising new writer judging from the depth of his imagination, but on the textual level and in storytelling there are still many kinks to iron out. Recommended only if you like the bleakest of bleak grimdark fantasy and are philosophically disposed.

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