"You're so sane," mused Wichtig, "you are the craziest person I have ever met. You cling so desperately to sanity and stability when such things are obviously myths. You believe pretending the world isn't crazy might make it so." He laughed comfortably and added, "You might be the craziest person in all the world."
This quote, from Book #1 Beyond Redemption, defines the premise of the trilogy. The paradox is key. What is perceived as sanity is actually raving madness. The Manifest Delusions, as its title suggests, is full of it.
Gods can be created. Fashioned by gifted humans whose insanity is a consequence of unlimited power. This craziness takes the form of Doppels who are clones of the god, though defined by specific quality of the god's personality - Trepidation, Acceptance, Contamination and Taboo. Insanity, in ones so powerful, enable them to create anything they want. A delusion is an invention driven by insanity but when you're super-powerful, you can make it real. With me so far?
Into this deranged world, people are the pawns of the super-powerful folk. Or, they are assassins, swordsmen and murderers. Good people don't exist here. This is a world where the Grimdark label has been trodden into the mud and covered in manure, taken up and re-attached to the story. Yes, it is that dark. Manifest Delusions takes place in a world where hope cannot exist because it has been corrupted so badly, it sobs into its pillow at night. Add to this, even Death isn't an escape. You're forced to serve whoever has killed you. For our main protagonists, this provides them an army of people they've despatched. It is all so utterly hopeless. This is nihilism squared. No, cubed.
However, this is Michael R Fletcher we're talking about. Within the insanity, the despair, the visceral violence, there is humour. It's snarky, wry and incredibly well-observed. You laugh. Then stop yourself and think, I shouldn't be laughing at that. It's sick. But next time you laugh again and realise your mind must be just as warped as Mike Fletcher's. That's like dunking yourself into an ice bath.
With less skilled penmanship, these three stories would be the grimmest of Grimdark. They might sicken you. But, (and it's a big but), the quality of writing is so evocative, the themes are there in every simile, metaphor and aanlogy. You're left marvelling at the quality of description distilled into every throw away line. I had thought about quoting examples but found myself unable to find any that surpassed all the others. I'd quote all 3 books.
The cast of characters is epic. All with German names. (Why German? Such a difficult language to pronounce!) They are a diverse crew of misfits and lunatics, all with hang-ups and flaws that make them revolting and despicable. But you engage with them and you feel dirty for doing so. They pull you in as you keep telling yourself, this can't get any worse. Then it does.
It is important to add that Clayton Snyder is a joint author of Book #3, A War To End All. They make an exceptional double act. If you haven't read Norylska Groans, go check it out. It is truly superb. It is equally as bleak, don't expect unicorns and rainbows. But these guys can tell a story as individuals. When they collaborate, the work vanishes off the scale.
I'm grateful to Mike for an advanced reader copy of Book#3. Like all of his stories, I'm left reeling. Not just at the events of the story but, primarily, at the quality of writing. A War To End All comes out in September. Go, order it now. For this is a work of such magnitude, people will be talking about it for a long time.