cover image Swarm and Steel

Swarm and Steel

Michael R. Fletcher. Talos, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-940456-89-8

Fletcher’s third novel set in his Manifest Delusions universe (after Beyond Redemption), a world where anything a person truly believes will become reality, is a tour de force of dark fantasy shot through with wonder and black humor. Zerfall, the charismatic leader of a religious sect, awakens with partial amnesia in an alley to learn that she has attempted to murder her sister and coleader, Hölle. Hölle survives, but neither of them has any idea why Zerfall made the attempt. As children, the two of them received what they believed to be a message from the divine creator and as a result they created Swarm, a hell in which souls of dead people are locked away with only one another for company forever; the sisters’ church, which preaches eternal salvation on its surface, is a funnel to direct souls into Swarm. But Zerfall finds out that she has begun to doubt whether Swarm was divinely inspired and whether Hölle has been working with Zerfall’s best interests at heart, and even whether her sister is really her sister after all. Fletcher’s twisty and continuously surprising plot piles spectacle upon spectacle in an amazingly ambitious structure, while his consistently three-dimensional characters lend depth and heart to the narrative. Some clumsiness at the beginning in explaining the world and its concepts gives way to a smoother style, without unduly marring the overall effect. Agent: Cameron McClure, Donald Maass Literary. (Aug.)