I need to question a bit of my sanity here. Swarm and Steel is at its core a standalone and is Fletcher’s take on a love story set in the same Mad World as the Manifest Delusions main series. You might think “oh, this sounds lighter than the main series.” Let me tell you that no, it’s not. It’s still insane and, in my opinion, the most disgusting installment yet. For instance, there’s this character who’s building a puppet made out of his snot, nail clippings, and body hair. Also, the two main characters, Zerfall and Jateko—the couple—are a walking corpse and a cannibal. Seriously, anything touched by this author becomes a swarm of madness and insanity. And yet, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the book anyway.
"If you care what others think to the point it defines your choices—defines your happiness and self-worth—you’re giving them power. Over you.”
If you haven’t read Beyond Redemption and The Mirror’s Truth (you seriously should though) and are looking to start reading Fletcher’s work, it’s definitely okay to start with this book if you want. The story is completely separated; it starts slowly and builds up everything to reach the amazing climax sequences. The last 20% of the book, like The Mirror’s Truth, is full of breathtaking action sequences that lead to the most suitable ending for the book. However, I will still suggest you read the main series first. Not only are they some of the best books in the genre, if you’re a super spoiler-sensitive person like me, there’s a tiny nod to some events in the main series. The main series is in my opinion superior, and reading those main novels first will ease you into understanding most of the terminology used in the book.
Don’t get me wrong, Fletcher did a wonderful job in re-explaining both old and new terms again, but I feel like they’re still a bit overwhelming if you’re a newcomer to the series. Aside from that, Fletcher did a superb job of expanding the Mad World by exploring Swarm and several new Geisteskranken (The Delusional) that were only mentioned in the main books.
Admittedly, I do have some minor cons with the book. Unlike Beyond Redemption or The Mirror’s Truth, this book took quite a while to truly engross me in the story and characters; specifically, 50% of the book. This is due to the fact that the characters, though they are still well written, just pale in comparison to the main trio of the Manifest Delusions series. It can’t be helped really; Bedeckt, Witchtig, and Stehlen are uniquely amazing characters that captivated me ever since their first appearance. The fact that I’m reading this straight after The Mirror’s Truth is partly to blame as well because my feelings for the main trio are still fresh. However, the last half of the book truly made my time spent reading this book worthwhile and it almost completely overshadowed the cons I had with the first half.
Overall, Swarm and Steel is a magnificent side story for the Manifest Delusions series and is definitely a must read for the fan of the series. Finishing this book means that I’ve read all of the full-length novels written by Michael R. Fletcher, and I can safely say that with one or two more books, he will definitely be included in my ‘favorite authors of all time’ list. Once again, if you’re a fan of the genre, all of the books in the Manifest Delusions series a MUST read; I can’t recommend them strongly enough.