I tend to shy away from anything that self-identifies as “grimdark”. For those that are unfamiliar, grimdark stories often feature an anti-hero, generally unlikable characters, gritty dark writing, and a whole lot of tragedy. Grimdark books often tend to overreach for shock value in their writing and it can be a huge turn off when you are otherwise enjoying the story. In addition, I tend to shy away from the subject of mental illnesses as it is something I find uncomfortable to think about. Due to both these facts, when I ran into the heaps of praise for Beyond Redemption by Michael Fletcher, a grimdark book about the insane shaping reality around them, I decided to hold off for awhile. As is often the case with books I ignore, it was a mistake. Fletcher has written a story that celebrates the best that grimdark has to offer while also exploring the sensitive subject of mental illness in a vivid and creative manner.
Beyond Redemption is a German influenced fantasy that takes place in a world where the beliefs of the insane define reality. The stronger a person’s ability to manipulate the world around them, the crazier they become, and some have gotten so crazy and powerful that they have ascended to godhood. A person’s reality manipulation abilities always ties back to a specific mental illness/kind of insanity, and their powers revolve around the way their mind is unraveling. The story focuses around a variety of characters, starting with an egotistical priest who gains power through people’s faith in him. The priest attempts to make a god-by-design, attempting to control how a child goes insane and rises in power, but a number of other figures see the potential in influencing the fledgling god and also seek to influence him. In addition to this, we have a trio of travelers looking for their next score, each with their own form of crazy, who see an opportunity in ransoming this young god back to the church. The plot thus revolves around the control and influence of a deity in the making, and explores a variety of crazies as they battle to be the one who helps him ascend.
As I mentioned before, Beyond Redemption embodies the best of grimdark without going over the top. The world the story takes place in is terrible, ravaged by the insane as they bend everything around them to their demented will. However, there is order and clarity with how the powers work and the world building is well paced and exciting. All of our protagonists are deeply flawed individuals that are beyond redemption, and they stay true to their vile personalities as they progress the story along. At the same time, the protagonists are relatable and so entertaining to read about that, while they are terrible people, you are never pulled out of the story by their disdainful actions. There is trauma and tragedy aplenty in the story, but the grisly events that do occur in the book feel like they are used to flesh out and explain characters we are already attached to, and do not feel like they are simply there to shock the reader by being controversial. Additionally, many of the disturbing events of the story go a long way to expound the plethora of mental illnesses that make up the core of the story.
These mental illnesses manifest in tons of different ways. For example, a kleptomaniac who can’t help stealing everything, including things like the still beating hearts out of chests. Then there are people who are so afraid of dying that they become undead themselves. One of the scariest characters is a pyromaniac with a love of burning everything around her, and a large part of the story revolves around someone whose personality fractures into various versions of him that all seek to become the original in the Highlander sense. Beyond Redemption both pays tribute to a variety of mental illnesses as well as explores them in interesting ways. Fletcher manages to take a subject that makes me uncomfortable and instead make me eager to read more about it.
My complaints about the book are minor. I would have liked to have seen more of the world than the small corner that Beyond Redemption visits, and while satisfying, the ending felt slightly abrupt and left me wanting one more chapter of explanation or an epilogue. However, since my major complaints about the book are that “I wanted more of it” it is safe to say that it is a very good read. Listen to all the bloggers and reviewers out there and grab Beyond Redemption when you can.