Overview (No Spoilers):
Kat is meek, mild, and stuck unawares in a manipulative relationship. While striving to be the ‘perfect’ subservient female partner, an unexpected sequence of events takes Kat on a path that quickly escalates out of her control. The other main character in Norylska Groans, Gen, is a former soldier who feels lost now that he has returned from duty, especially as he struggles to provide for his newly pregnant wife. With a job in the mob presenting itself, will Gen survive or thrive in this cut-throat environment, while keeping his life with Irina separate?
The character development takes a back seat during the first half of Norylska Groans as Snyder and Fletcher expend significant effort to highlight the complex and fascinating magical system. The two main characters are kept relatively one dimensional, filling stereotypical roles in order to emphasize how individuals are influenced by personality stones. Once the personas with and without the stones are established, the characters themselves experience exponential growth. I struggled to connect with Gen’s story as his motivations seem to go astray, though I would be remiss to not state that this lapse in continuity is eventually addressed. Kat’s character is much easier to empathize with as we are clearly given scenes with her wearing the stones and without.
A fantastic example of grimdark fantasy, Norylska Groans contains detailed imagery and worldbuilding. And while I was completely caught up in the suspense and plight of the characters, as well as highly intrigued by the personality stones, with only a quarter of the read to go, I still wasn’t quite sure of the purpose of the story. Surprisingly, it didn’t take away from the novel at all, as I was entertained by the story in its own right.
With regard to the magical system, I couldn’t help but draw correlations to Fletcher’s finalist last year, Black Stone Heart, where souls could be housed in gems. I do find this new fantasy element to have more thought-provoking applications than the aforementioned finalist’s power source. I remain curious as to how this magic could be employed in other applications as the ins and outs of how memories are actually stored is left purposely vague. Regardless, this magical concept has so many potential uses that it would have been fun to brainstorm the various ways, nefarious or not, to wield this power.
Norylska Groans has some of the most cringe-inducing torture scenes I’ve read in literature, but on the flip side, I would say these scenes in particular highlight Fletcher and Snyder’s ability to bring text to life in vivid detail, regardless of the subject matter. Positively, brutal to read though.
It should also be noted that I was shocked to find out that Norylska Groans is a stand-alone novel. With so much effort put into building up this world and magical system I was sure this was meant to be the inaugural book in a series. There are so many loose ends with regard to the story and the personality stones that I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with the open-ended feel to Norylska Groans.
Overall, despite a clear plot arc not taking shape until the second half of this read, I had a hard time putting down Norylska Groans due to the imagery and fantasy elements capturing my imagination. That said, this novel definitely puts the dark in grimdark, as I can’t think of one happy element of this read.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- How did Kostas’ stone end up back in the police station if he died under Arkady’s knife? Why didn’t Lazarev switch it out? Why did he require Kat to give it to him outside of work?
- How do other applications of this skill work, such as storing personality traits in mud for temporary fixes or sewing stones into the skin for a more permanent effect?
- Why did Lazarev give Kat Kostas’ stone? You could really see Kostas bleeding into Kat slowly throughout this book. If Lazarev thought that Kostas was a good man why did he kill him? What made him think that Kostas knew he was Arkady?
- At one point ‘A Wise Man’s Fear’ is quoted as one of the most terrifying things in life. I couldn’t help but wonder if Fletcher or Snyder were referencing the Rothfuss book.
- Did Kat really kill Maks? It wasn’t till this scene where he told her she was crazy that it dawned on me that she probably was actually losing it mentally.
- Where was Grinin this whole novel? Maks and Kat were in a shootout where three other militioner were brutally killed, but they didn’t need to debrief?
- So Arkady/Lazarev among other various characters in the book were actually all the same people? I wanted this scene to be explained further. How were the bodies kept alive/healthy? How involved was Boris in all of this? Who else knows? Does this mean that some people are immortal due to the power of their personalities in the stones? Why didn’t Arkady aspire to be the mob boss? Did Lia know?
- Why did Gen kill all the prone, zombie bodies without knowing what was going on? What did the spymaster think of this scene?
- How did Osip get the spymaster’s stone? Why did Gen think he needed it? What if it would have acted counter to the other stones?
- I was so confused about Gen’s dreaming scenes. He was having a reaction to his stones, so Arkady/Lazarev was adding more to counteract them, but what was the veneficum trying to achieve with Gen?
- I’d already suspected that Lazarev/Arkady were connected but it solidified when Arkady used the same quote as Lazarev to describe Fyodor as “quietly angry” when he came to Kat’s house.
- Kat doesn’t know anything about Maks, like if he had a family. Wouldn’t Kostas have known?
- Why did Arkady react so immediately to the black market veneficum?
- If Lazarev was the body during the day and Arkady during the night when did they need personal sleep? Also when in Kat’s house, Arkady references the old man. Are the personas separate?
- I really thought that Penkin would somehow play a role with Gen and Osip. When it was realized that Lazarev had betrayed Kat and he was the actual bad guy I was hoping that Kat would feel some remorse for killing Penkin but she was too far gone.
- Did Penkin get vanilla from Osip due to it being impossible to get in Norylska?
- Finding out Gen’s backstory as the Butcher or Thresher made so much more sense. Did Arkady/Lazarev pick him out on purpose for that reason? Was he being a better person for Irina? Did she know about his history?
- Gen was sacrificing everything for Irina and their future baby, but he left their home and hardly thought of her the rest of the book until he had double-crossed Arkady. I realize this was the stones impacting him, but that motivation should have been lingering in the background.
- Kat yelling and smoking in the library was hurting my heart, but surprisingly this exchange grew to be quite amusing.
- How did Dyrkovich and his two friends get to the location in the Scab before Gen and Arkady if they ran horses the whole way?
- Is Dmitry the same as Lazarev/Arkady?
- Gen set his own house on fire? What a waste! Also how did the neighbors not hear Boris screaming?
Occluded: to close up or block off
Tenements: a house used as a dwelling
Adages: a saying often in metaphorical form that typically embodies a common observation
Invective: insulting or abusive language
Patina: a surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use
Abattoir: a place where animals are butchered
Demesne: legal possession of land as one’s own
Prevarication: to deviate from the truth
Cornices: the molded and projecting horizontal member that crowns an architectural composition