by Michael R. Fletcher
A broken man, Khraen awakens alone and lost. His stone heart has been shattered, littered across the world. With each piece, he regains some small shard of the man he once was.
He follows the trail, fragment by fragment, remembering his terrible past.
There was a woman.
There was a sword.
There was an end to sorrow.
Khraen walks the obsidian path.
I’m no stranger to dark fantasy and protagonists who act in questionable ways (hello Rin from The Poppy Wars) yet none of these books prepared me for Black Stone Heart. Clearly I haven’t been reading enough grimdark because this damn book was unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I’m gonna go ahead and put on a swear warning now which I’ll no doubt censor on Amazon immediately after, but FUCK! This book!
Black Stone Heart is the tale of Khraen, a man who is reborn into the aftermath of a great magical war with no semblance of who he is or where he came from. All he knows is that his black heart has been shattered into pieces, and by collecting these pieces, he gains new knowledge of his past. However, with each new piece gained, he begins to understand that his dark heart was shattered for a reason and that he may be the evil dark lord responsible for the devastating wars which almost destroyed the world.
With that knowledge, Khraen needs to decide what kind of man he wants to be and whether he can outrun the evil deeds of his past and become a good person, or if he’s doomed to make the same mistakes and drag everyone else down with him.
What I’ll whine about:
Okay, so this isn’t a whine so much as it is a warning. This book is dark. Like damn, this book is fucked up in places and I LOVE IT. Black Stone Heart doesn’t shy away from violence and desperate choices. Whilst I don’t want to spoil the path Khraen takes, I’ll say his choices become more questionable as the story goes on. He tries to do the right thing, bless him, yet it doesn’t quite work out that way, and it leads to a slippery slope of violence justified with a “well this evil thing I’m doing isn’t as evil as that evil thing I COULD be doing” and then of course he indulges that evil thing next.
There are many dark twists and horrific scenes in this book which I would warn squeamish readers away from. That is my whine. Black Stone Heart is written from the perspective of a villainous character. Personally I loved Khraen’s voice and personality, but if you can’t stand to see a bad guy doing bad things, then this book may not be for you.
The character of Henka, for example, is a dead necromancer (and a bad influence on poor Khraen) who uses necromancy to fight alongside Khraen. However, her abilities require sacrifice. The extent of these sacrifices are revealed as the story goes on, and whilst I felt absolutely entertained by Khraen and the fast pace of the story, there is one scene where they plot murder and it made me put the book down and just think fuck, these characters are actually evil!
What I’ll gush about:
This book took me on a journey I wasn’t prepared for. It started off peacefully with a happy cottage and a little murder and then Khraen made a friend and we went on an adventure. And from there onwards I wasn’t sure what I expected, but sexy necromancy wasn’t one of them!
Black Stone Heart was a wild ride for me, and I tore through its pages. Honestly, all my “complaints” above are what I enjoyed about this book. Journeying with Khraen felt like a crazy road trip as we both learned about his past and the world he found himself trapped in together. I felt his frustrations and groaned at his poor choices. Despite being a bit of a scoundrel (an understatement perhaps) I felt attached to Khraen as he struggled to separate his identity from the overwhelming figure of his past. Black Stone Heart throws up a few moral questions: if an evil figure loses their memory of being evil, are they still the same person? Can they be blamed for the atrocities of the past? Is redemption possible? And is it okay to murder people for self-preservation? Hrm, I’m not so sure about that one!
As much as I loved Khraen, it was the two female leads who stole the show for me. We meet Shalayn earlier on, a no-nonsense sword fighter who knows what she wants. But my favourite was definitely Henka, the shy and sweet dead necromancer who isn’t as shy and sweet as she first appears. Both make an impact on Khraen’s life and inspire the questionable decisions he makes. I can see that both are going to be big trouble in the sequels!
Black Stone Heart is a fast-paced exploration of what it means to be evil that ultimately doesn’t shy from being monstrous and enjoying it.