The Mirror’s Truth is the second novel in Michael R. Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions series, following pretty directly on from Beyond Redemption. It follows the same cast of characters (for the most part) in Bedeckt, Stehlen, Wichtig, and the insane newly-made god Morgen. For those who haven’t heard of Fletcher’s world, it exists on a very simple… complex… odd concept, that belief determines reality. Believe hard enough and that belief becomes real. The world’s laws are governed by the belief of the populace. This makes religion a very powerful concept as enough people believe in an afterlife that there IS an afterlife. It also makes the insane the magic users of the world in many ways. If someone is delusional enough to believe they are the greatest swordsman in the world, they ARE the greatest swordsman in the world. If someone is delusional enough to believe they can shapeshift into a dragon that breathes madness instead of fire and can shred reality… well then they CAN shapeshift into a dragon… And that is the basis for the crazy world that Fletcher has created.
It’s worth noting that the delusional magic users in this world aren’t all happy happy joy joy kicking around with magic powers just because they want to have them. It really seems as though Fletcher has done a bit of research into mental disorders and many of the powers are manifested due to deep pain or trauma. A kleptomaniac might be able to turn herself invisible, but only because she truly believes she is worthless and beneath people’s notice. Many of the powers the characters show are manifested as a way to hide truths the characters are too scared to admit even to themselves. This is actually one of the areas where Mirror’s Truth does a lot better than Beyond Redemption, we really get to see and feel the hurt and psychosis that drive the characters. It helps to bring them alive and makes them easier to connect with… which is important for characters who are… utter arseholes!
The book, and the series, fit very firmly in the grimdark genre. The world is shitty, the characters are bastards, and pretty much everything in the world is out to kill or steal from everything else. It adds an underlying thread of tension that thrums through the book no matter what is happening and when and to who. This is only amplified by Fletcher’s willingness to put his character’s through the wringer. AND HE REALLY PUTS THEM THROUGH THE WRINGER!!! No character is safe at any point in the book and that leaves the reader balancing on a knife edge. Some characters you want to die and can’t wait to see get their comeuppance, and others you really want to survive and find some measure of happiness… But you know they probably won’t. It’s like reading a car crash; you know nothing good can come out of it, but you can’t stop turning the pages.
I did feel this book had a few pacing issues. It was really slow at the start with the same scenes and information being told to us by different characters. It gave the first half a very plodding feel, almost as though Fletcher was trying to find the balance between giving the reader all the information they needed to proceed, and giving his characters something interesting to do. But then the second half kicks in and it’s pretty much a non stop thrill ride. And what a finale! With equal parts humour, touching sentimentality, and brutal swordstrokes, with a couple of satisfying twists thrown in… It’s fair to say Fletcher nailed the ending.
All in all I’m going to give The Mirror’s Truth 4 stars. The pacing issues at the start hurt it a bit, but a truly satisfying grimdark novel chocked full of touching character development, brutal murder, and vague promises of worse things to come.