Norylska Groans by Clayton Snyder & Michael Fletcher

Norylska Groans 
Michael Fletcher & Clayton Snyder

Norylska Groans...

with the weight of her crimes. In a city where winter reigns amid the fires of industry and war, soot and snow conspire to conceal centuries of death and deception.

Norylska Groans...

and the weight of a leaden sky threatens to crush her people. Katyushka Leonova, desperate to restore her family name, takes a job with Norylska's brutal police force. To support his family, Genndy Antonov finds bloody work with a local crime syndicate. 

Norylska Groans...

with the weight of her dead. As bodies fall, the two discover a foul truth hidden beneath layers of deception and violence: Come the thaw, what was buried will be revealed

This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for ages as I have had it recommended to me on a number of occasions, and I have to say that I found this book to be exceptionally good. 
Now the story is billed as fantasy, but for me I didn’t feel that it was fantasy per se, but there does seem to be fantasy elements running through it, but they do see to be there, intrinsically wrapped up in the very essence of the rich and detailed world that Michael Fletcher and Clayton Snyder have developed. At this point in time, the world reminded me more of something set in a nightmarish gaslamp Gibsonian world.
The book is set in a Russian inspired world, which I have to say that I found totally unique, and this is something that I have not come across before. It’s a bleak setting, full of grime and smoke, filth and slush. Nothing is clean in the industrualised town of Norylska. There might be nice parts of it, but the story sets itself in the downtrodden slums of the town and we only get a glimpse of the ostentatious part of the town.  
Added to this, there is an oppressive state-run political system that seems to be akin to the early years of communist rule. Everything is run around ‘The Party’, and there are partisan politics running through the whole of the book. From how the inhabitants of Norylska live their lives to what type of employment that they are suited to. 
As I said, it is a pretty grim book, and Michael Fletcher and Clayton capture the essence of the bleakness perfectly. In the past, I have read some Russian literature, and for the most part I found it to be quite dark, and similarly with Norlyska Groans, there is that oppressive feeling that I got when reading this type of literature, and the book is as harsh as the environment that it is set in.
That is not to say that it is totally devoid of light and hope, because it is not, and this seems to be a driving force to the characters motivations. Both Gen & Kat are motivated by their hopes that their choices can lead to a better life, although it is this hope which leads them down the individual paths that they go down. 
The story revolves around two main protagonists, Genndy Antonov and Katyushka Leonova, and the book tells their stories separately, even though their paths do collide at various points in the book. 
Genndy, or Gen for short is a factory worker who is initially laid off from his job as a factory worker in the early stages in the book. Following this, he is approached by local crime lord Akady Vetrov to come and work for the resident crime family, especially as Gen is ex-military and has a propensity for violence. As he as a wife and the imminent birth of a child to provide for, he sees this as the only viable option to solving his problems. 
Katyushka, otherwise known as Kat, on the other hand is a woman that is in an unsatisfying relationship with a turd of a man. She initially takes up a job as a secretary in the local police force. However, she is side-lined into ‘volunteering’ for an experimental project to introduce women to the police force and is subsequently teamed with suave Maks Tkatchenko. 
What follows is the descent of both protagonists into their respective worlds. One, a police officer and the other a criminal and how their lives fall apart, intersect and dissect again. 
Like I said earlier, I liked this book immensely. Whilst it is not a hard book to read as both Snyder’s and Fletcher’s prose drive the story along with addictive precision, it is a dark book! There are no shreds of light and each of the protagonists find themselves enfolded in an increasingly violent and stygian world. 
There are loads of things going on this book and lots of aspects of the book that caught my attention. One of these being the magic system. And whilst it is not a conventional fantasy magic system as such, you get hints that it derives from fantastical elements in its inception and that it has been modified altered and transmuted into something new through the ages of the world. It is a totally intriguing concept that bears a resemblance to say something like the computerised alterations of a William Gibson book, but that it has been pared back to fit into a prehistoric concept ad subsequently updated to the industrialised setting. Let me explain! The system revolves around stones that the wearer places next to their skin. The stones are imbued with the characteristics, personalities, and memories of the previous wearers, and these can instil these same memories, personality traits and characteristics into the individual that is wearing them. The personality can wear one or more stones and they will each enhance certain properties in the wearer, like bravery for instance. However, there is a catch that the wearer will lose time and memories when wearing the stones, which again leads to some brilliant scenarios in which the wearers will forget everything they have done throughout the day when they revert to their original personalities. Totally fascinating! And whilst initially, the magic system seems to be such a small part of the narrative, it is so intricately woven into the plot that you do not realise how much an effect that the magic system does have on the narrative. 
In addition to this, the world building is so rich and vividly detailed that you can actually feel the soot and grime on your fingertips as you turn the page. Michael Fletcher and Clayton Snyder have created a fully realised world that has a history and all the other things that make the environment that the characters inhabit a living and breathing entity that makes you feel like you are actually ensconces in the surroundings of the book when you are reading it. 
The story falls very definitely into the hard-boiled category of violence and there are some graphic scenes of violence and torture throughout the book. However, I did not feel that this was violence for violence’s sake, but that it matched the tone and narrative of the book, and on top of that it always felt like it was controlled with Fletcher and Snyder reining in the violence when it wasn’t necessary.
One of the things that I had a little trepidation over, was the fact that two authors had done the book. You always wonder what the styles, different ideas and different approaches will have on the story. However, both Snyder and Fletcher mesh their differences seamlessly, and each differing approach compliments, interacts and bounces off each other perfectly. 
I have to say, that this is one of those books that has stayed with me as I will find myself mulling over some aspect of the book, days and weeks after I have finished it. 

So as always, thank you for visiting the site

And happy reading!


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