I am going to say straight away, this book is a masterpiece
“Beyond Redemption” is a book most people who enjoy what is commonly defined as the sub-genre of “grimdark fantasy” will definitely have heard of. As matter of fact, for many people, this book, written by the heralded author Micheal R. Fletcher, is seminal, and sub-genre defining.
Mark Lawrence, New York Times Bestselling Author and grimdark star himself (author of the “Broken Empire” Trilogy), once defined Beyond Redemption as essentially the MOST grimdark book of all grimdark books, as voted on in a poll by readers. Among these books were some of Lawrence’s own books!
So there was no way that, despite my love-hate relationship with what is considered grimdark, I was not going to read this book, out of ALL the numerous so-called grimdark books that I could possibly sample.
Matter of fact, it was my desire to read this book specifically that inspired me to dedicate my reading in the month of April 2022 to reading four of the most lauded Indie grimdark writers, Fletcher being one of them. Thus, April 2022 became my #Grimdarkmasters reading month.
I am going to say straight away, this book is a masterpiece, all the more for the fact that, normally, this would not be my “type” of book.
“Beyond Redemption” is the first book in the aptly named Manifest Delusion Series. The book does something incredibly original (at least in terms of what I have read in fantasy) and turns mental disorders into the magical element of the book, which I found completely fascinating.
I recommend any reader, especially those who buy this book in physical form, as I did, go first to the very handy glossaries at the back of the novel that Fletcher has composed. They provide a helpful guide and explanation into the world he has created, based on the particular mental disorder (or magical abilities, which essentially translates to the same thing) each category of character in the book experiences. There is somewhat of a hierarchy of disorders / powers. One will need this to understand what control each kind of person could potentially exhibit over another, and what level of destruction and chaos could be wrought by whom. And believe me, there is a lot of destruction and chaos in the book.
The book’s central premise is that reality is defined by the strength of delusion. The more people believe in a particular delusion, the more power it holds over them, the more ‘real’ and the stronger overall the delusion becomes. Those who create the delusion that holds sway, thus, are the most powerful in terms of the overall society. One can become virtually a deity, if one’s delusions are powerful enough and believed by a widespread audience.
In this world, the most important people to remember are the Gefahrgeist and the Geisteskranken. The Gefahrgeiests are sociopaths, thus there is an absence of empathy or morality in them – they only want to conquer and rule. The Geisteskranken are essentially obsessive and “insane” enough that their devotion to a particular belief can actually change reality.
The plot of “Beyond Redemption” focuses on three main arcs. The most important arc, at first, seems to be that of High Priest Konig and Morgen. Konig is the prominent head of a religion / Theocracy – known as the Geborene Damonen – that believes humanity created gods out of a desperate need to believe in something. Based on this belief, Konig sees his penultimate mission as creating an all-powerful god to bring order to the world. That god is the young boy, Morgen, whom Konig feels he must train in god-like duties, and ensure that Morgen “ascends” to god-hood, in order to ensure Morgen achieves his full potential. But by ascending, that also means Morgen must die.
But Konig has more problems than making sure Morgen ascends. He is also a Mirrorist (or at least becomes one), and a Doppelgangist. Whereby Konig believes the reflections he sees in the mirror are – while still part of him – something other than himself, and that doppels of the high priest are working independently to their own sinister ends. A horrible fate could await Konig because of being a Mirrorist.
His reflections could try to escape being bound by the mirror, usurp his place, or murder him. He could reach the Pinnacle (the height of insanity where delusions have essentially taken over, and become one’s reality), where he might be dragged into the mirror by his delusions, unable to escape.
The second arc is that of three amoral thieves, and these miscreants see the opportunity to kidnap Morgen for their own big purposes as the final heist that will set them up for life. The scoundrels are Bedeckt, Wichtig, and Stehlen. Bedeckt is the leader, a formidable warrior and veteran, and seemingly one of the most sane people in the story, which makes him all the more dangerous, and confounding. The unbelievably good-looking and conceited Wichtig believes himself The Greatest Swordsman in the World, and is on a mission to prove it.
Meanwhile the complex Stehlen, who at times is the conscience of the team (which seems like a real contradiction) is a Kleptic (kleptomaniac) highly skilled killer. With all her savagery, she harbours unrequited romantic feelings for Bedeckt, while Wichtig looks to Bedeckt as a father figure and mentor. But despite all their daunting prowess, the three rascals are not prepared for the complications that go with trying to snatch a god from the likes of Konig and his followers.
The final arc is that of the repulsive Slaver Erbrechen, and his sometime rage-filled companion Gehirn. The Slaver has a cult-like following, and the desperate Gehirn, looking for affection, belonging, and above all, a purpose and outlet for her Hassebrand (pyromaniac) powers, perhaps pose the greatest threat to Morgen, and to reality.
There is some simply outstanding character work done here by Fletcher. This book has one of the best trio of characters in the band of travelling good-for-nothings variety I have ever read in a fantasy novel. The friend-enemy vibe between the three degenerates was priceless, laugh-out loud hilarious, and heart-breaking. Their chemistry was unbelievable, and my favourite part of the novel.
Konig, Morgen, Gehrin, Erbrechen, and particularly the doppels were phenomenally written, and completely chilling. If you are looking for characters that you are going to like for their virtue, look away. But this is part of the genius of Fletcher.
This is a book where, as the title implies, NONE of the characters have much good in them, if any at all, at least on the surface. Even the boy, Morgen, though he rates some compassion because of his youth, and vulnerability, is not a likeable character.
As a reader, the only reason I wanted him saved was due to tender age (and level of manipulation experienced at the hands of others), not because of particularly liking him. When strands of humanity, caring, and decency are found in the characters, any empathy felt by the reader will be potentially negated by all multiplicity of horrible acts they commit.
But when we do end up feeling sorry for them, we also have to look at ourselves, and see ourselves in them, and also contemplate the context of mental disorders, and those afflicted with them. The “average” person has some level of mental substance use disorder (some estimates say as high as a billion people, most of them undiagnosed and untreated).
Are not such disorders actually commonplace, rather than “abnormal”? How do mental disorders impact how people behave? To what degree can someone escape the impact of such disorders? Do people with such disorders not deserve more understanding, empathy, and consideration, rather than fear, rejection, and potentially loathing? Since, to some degree, one seventh of the world suffers from them?
Fletcher seems to raise the thought-provoking theme of what constitutes “reality”, whose “reality” matters, and ultimately, if there is something that exists after reality (hint, Fletcher describes it as the Afterdeath). For such a witty, gory, gripping book, with a twisty but fast-paced and tight plot, Fletcher excels at giving “Beyond Redemption” a highly philosophical feel, and keeps the subject matter very engaging. Characters pay for the consequences of their actions, there is lots of collateral damage, and it’s hard to comprehend if any of the partially “good people” have won at the end of the book.
But what an ending! The climax is shocking, riveting, and sets so much up for future installments.
The world-building was awesome, the action pieces thrilling, and with the themes outlined above, grimdark fans will be in utter delight, as Fletcher explores the depths of human depravity and madness. But nothing is gratuitous – it’s all purposeful, extremely well crafted, impeccably done, with appropriate sensitivity and aplomb.
Yes, there is nihilism, and yes, this book is bloody dark beyond belief! But the book does not wholly abnegate all sense of humanity. There is a tenderness and warmth to some of the interactions between the characters in some of the quiet moments (in the midst of utter chaos) that will really strike a chord, and indicates that perhaps the author indeed believes there is some hope of redemption for characters deemed otherwise not worth saving.
Finally, I was highly impressed by Fletcher’s prose. It flows beautifully, and has that great balance between being spare and tight while expanding enough and descriptive enough when needed.
My footnote here is that I, while I have read three books in my lifetime that I personally found are “darker”, than “Beyond Redemption”, “Beyond Redemption” is the one of the best books of what I consider grimdark books, and one of the pioneering books in the sub-genre.
Much more than five stars for this triumph by Micheal R. Fletcher.