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Review: In the Shadow of their Dying by Michael R. Fletcher and Anna Smith Spark

“The stench of spilled entrails and the rot of death followed them everywhere, filled their every moment, haunted their dreams.”

In the Shadow of their Dying

Two of the most prominent voices in grimdark fantasy, Michael R. Fletcher and Anna Smith Spark, join forces on In the Shadow of their Dying, the most anticipated new grimdark novella of 2024.

Tash is the third-best assassin in a city under siege, within a week of being conquered by an invading army. Although there is not much demand for assassins in the midst of all-out war, Tash is hired by a mercenary leader, Pitt, to end the siege by killing their own king and fleeing the city toward the safety of the south.

But Tash encounters an unexpected problem when he crosses paths with a demon, Iananr the Bound One, occupying a woman’s body. Iananr thrives on blood and destruction and has sworn to defend the king in order to maximize bloodshed. But what Iananr really desires is freedom from her bondage.

Michael R. Fletcher and Anna Smith Spark’s unique voices both shine in alternating point-of-view chapters. Fletcher holds nothing back with his fierce prose and incisive humor. Anna Smith Spark shines with the voice she has given to Iananr. Her writing is so darkly poetic, with a rhythmic cadence that I couldn’t help but read aloud:

“But the dead… the dead… She had swum through them without feeling. Her molten tears eating into rotted skin. Her touch a corrosion, left them ragged. Skin and bones fretted, filigreed, fine-finger-spun cobwebbed lace. They stumbled after her, reaching. Yearned for her, as she yearned fearful hopeful longing for the thing Tash. The rustle they made around her a comfort. The sounds of bodies broken that was the sound of her world snatched from her.”

Fletcher and Smith Spark have crafted a menacing, mystical, and labyrinthine feel in In the Shadow of their Dying that evokes the best of Gustav Meyrink, specifically his masterwork, The Golem. I especially enjoyed reading overlapping scenes from both human and demon perspectives.

In the Shadow of their Dying is full of unexpected twists and turns as Tash, Pitt, and Iananr grapple to gain the upper hand. All of this is set against the backdrop of a war with mass, indiscriminate casualties, where true victory may be unattainable. The story also features plenty of necromancy, blurring the line between the living and the dead.

The Dripping Bucket, Michael R. Fletcher’s interdimensional grimdark tavern, features prominently throughout In the Shadow of their Dying. The sights, sounds, and smells of the Dripping Bucket are exactly what you would expect from Fletcher’s infamous pub. Let’s just say that it’s a health inspector’s worst nightmare. There are also several more subtle allusions to previous works by both Fletcher and Smith Spark, which longtime readers will enjoy.

In the Shadow of their Dying is a masterclass in grimdark fantasy from two of the most distinguished authors in the genre. This is an expertly crafted novella, featuring some of the most vibrant writing and character work from both Michael R. Fletcher and Anna Smith Spark. In the Shadow of their Dying is a must-read for grimdark fans everywhere.

5/5

Also check out my interview with Anna Smith Spark.

In the Shadow of their Dying

In the Shadow of their Dying

In the Shadow of their Dying

In the Shadow of their Dying

In the Shadow of their Dying

In the Shadow of their Dying

In the Shadow of their Dying

In the Shadow of their Dying

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