After a cataclysmic war of the gods, the last of humanity huddles in Bastion, a colossal ringed city. Beyond the outermost wall lies endless desert haunted by the souls of all the world’s dead.
Trapped in a rigid caste system, Nuru, a young street sorcerer, lives in the outer ring. She dreams of escape and freedom. When something contacts her from beyond the wall, she risks everything and leaps at the opportunity. Mother Death, a banished god seeking to reclaim her place in Bastion’s patchwork pantheon, has found her way back into the city.
Akachi, born to the wealth and splendour of Bastion’s inner rings, is a priest of Cloud Serpent, Lord of the Hunt. A temple-trained sorcerer, he is tasked with bringing peace to the troublesome outer ring. Drawn into a dark and violent world of assassins, gangs, and street sorcerers, he battles the spreading influence of Mother Death in a desperate attempt to save Bastion.
The gods are once again at war.
Smoke and Stone is the first book in the grimdark series City of Sacrifice, written by Michael R. Fletcher. It's such a deranged and bleak read, brilliant and definitely constitutes an experience that is difficult to describe with words, but it could be summed that I absolutely loved reading it; an original concept with a pantheon of gods inspired by Mesoamerican myths, told with a dual POV from different social classes and a magic system which is partly accessed by the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms are some of the elements that made this book so special.
After a cataclysmic war between the gods, the last of humanity lives in the ringed city of Bastion; the gods of the pantheon belonging to the Inner Circle, humanity divided into the different rings on the basis of a rigid caste system.
In the lowest stage of this system, living in the outer ring is Nuru, a young sorceress who dreams of reaching a better life; when she receives the contact of something beyond the wall, she accepts it, risking her own self and her friends in the process. Mother Dead wants to enter Bastion and reclaim her place among the pantheon, eliminating those gods that banished her in first place; Nuru is her instrument.
Akachi, born in wealth and prosperity, is one of the priests of Cloud Serpent, Lord of the Hunt. After some mistakes, he's sent to the one of the most desolated parishes in the outer ring, tasked with bringing order there, almost a death sentence with the track record for the previous priests. He's drawn into a world of misery and crime really different from what he was used to; but when he detects the presence of Mother Death, spreading her influence, he will have to embrace her role and try to stop it before it's too late.
As you can have imagined, the path of both characters will get crossed, and really interestingly, go in opposite directions; Nuru's path is destined to continue ascending the rings of Bastion, in a bloodstained way, guided by Mother Death until reaching the inner ring, reclaiming the position this goddess lost when she was banished. Nuru wants to escape from the depressing reality she was born, and Mother Death is the opportunity for it. Akachi comes from wealth and is sent to the literal mud, taking him to the outer ring; he will be hardened by the experience, and he will need to embrace Cloud Serpent's gifts if he wants to stop Mother Death.
Outside of our characters, it's impossible to not be shocked by the creativity behind Michael R. Fletcher's worldbuilding; a pantheon and religious customs that are inspired by the Mesoamerican mythology, which includes the use of hallucinogen mushrooms as the way to enter in contact with those gods (something that can be taken from modern shamanism). Bastion is a bleak and hard city, where life has practically no value; Fletcher is not afraid of portraying this grim aspect alongside with the rest, creating a quite unique setting.
Smoke and Stone is definitely an experience to read, it's metal made a book; if you look for an excellent novel, which sets perfectly the dark tone and with different inspirations, which attracts you to read it, City of Sacrifice is definitely a series for you. And I can tell you: this won't be the last Fletcher's book we cover in this place.
Michael R. Fletcher
Michael R. Fletcher is a science fiction and fantasy author, a grilled cheese aficionado, and a whiskey-swilling reprobate. He spends his days choreographing his forklift musical (titled "Get Forked"), and using caffeine as a substitute for sanity. Any suggestions that he is actually Dyrk Ashton in disguise are all lies.