Before I go any farther, I want to say that this novel is amazing. I love this story, I love the main character, I love the narrative’s voice, I find it totally riveting… except for the first 50 pages. This novel starts slow. Really slow. Perhaps it is a necessary evil… har har har… to include Khraen’s moral qualms about all of the shitty things he is doing, it probably is necessary in order to keep him humanized enough that we can identify with him in some small way. However, I think the first 50 pages took this too far. Nothing really happens other than Khraen whining to himself about all the horrible shit he’s done and how he knows he’s a bad guy but doesn’t want to be a bad guy.
A storm rolls in and suddenly all of the navel gazing is blown away by the gale, replaced with action and intrigue. From there on out, the pacing of the novel is absolutely excellent. I read it avidly, devouring huge chunks at a time, and secretly fearing that soon the book would be over.
It’s hard to convey in a book review how, as a reader, I might end up empathizing with a megalomaniacal murderous necrophiliac. In fact, as I commit that phrase to paper, part of me wants to fetch the white out. But Michael Fletcher pulls off a delicate balancing act, giving us emotional stakes, offset with dark repercussions if Khraen were to shy from his grim path. In the end, there’s no illusion that he is doing the right thing. And yet we understand why he’s doing it. In a way, we want him to succeed. Part of why this works is that the author doesn’t pit Khraen against virtuous heroes, he pits him against even more execrable pieces of shit, often the “worse” versions of himself. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and only the ruthless stand a chance here. Good thing Khraen is the most ruthless MF on the block.
An interesting thing happened as the main character continued to produce justification after justification for why he was doing the terrible things he did. The protagonist’s excuses lost their entanglements with the particulars of his life and found themselves floating free in my brain, where suddenly I realized that these excuses possessed an odd familiarity. Is it possible, I wondered, that part of the story is a critique on our society, willing to trade misery for order, willing to look away from soul crushing oppression for convenience? Khraen’s visions of a world under the thumb of the demon emperor have some uncomfortable similarities to our own. The phone you’re reading this review on didn’t require a soul sacrifice to bind a demon, but the resources and assembly likely passed through the hands of a slave at some point. Was it worth it? When does the common good outweigh the cost borne by a society’s most vulnerable members? Maybe we’re all villains, in the end.
I don’t claim to know for sure what this story is “all about.” Maybe Michael Fletcher is just a twisted bastard who writes riveting stories. Maybe he is scrawling an insane manifesto for revolution in the blood of fictitious sacrifices. Dunno. All I know is that She Dreams in Blood is a gripping, dark, and very unique novel. I loved this book and I love this series. If you need me, I’ll be painting my fingernails black, and looking askance at my cell phone, while I await the next step on the Obsidian Path.