I did it. I finally read Smoke by Dan Vyleta. You might not think this is much of an accomplishment, but I’ve had an ARC of this since May. Of 2016. So it’s kind of a big deal. When it first came out, I was intrigued by the premise – sin manifests itself as smoke. It seemed like an interesting historical fantasy. And then I read some mixed reviews and lost my motivation to pick it up. It’s been haunting me ever since.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) England. A century ago, give or take a few years. An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.
An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie – knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and cold-hearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.
This is the world of Smoke, a narrative tour de force, a tale of Dickensian intricacy and ferocious imaginative power, richly atmospheric and intensely suspenseful.
I was a bit anxious going into this book, because – having had it on my TBR for so long – the stakes felt high. I wanted to love it, but was afraid I would hate it. Neither of those things happened. I don’t think Smoke is a bad book by any means. It is, however, an overly long book. Had it entered the hands of a more ruthless editor, I think this might have been a great novel. As it is, it’s kind of just okay.
I really enjoyed the first hundred pages or so. The story was engaging, the background was interesting, and I found myself intensely curious about what was actually going on. Then the pacing slowed down considerably, and I had such a hard time continuing. It felt like I was running toward something big, and then, for no real reason, decided to stop and amble along. It was frustrating, and I feel like it could have been fixed.
The writing itself was good. It was evident that Vyleta has talent, and is probably a voracious reader. However, the structure of the book was kind of annoying. Switching perspectives is hard. Switching perspectives and point of views is nearly impossible to pull off well. And I don’t think it was done particularly well here. For example, the story switches back and forth between the perspectives of two main characters (with other characters interspersed). One of them is told in first person, the other in third. Why? Probably because it was easier for the author to hide the thoughts of one of the characters that way. The entire time I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about how much shit I would have gotten had I submitted something like this in grad school.
As for the characters, they were mostly just okay. This is a very male-dominated book. Which isn’t surprising given it takes place a century ago, but I wish there had been more female characters. I did like that there was a bit more to the female characters than basically being pretty furniture, though I wouldn’t say they were done particularly well. Any of the characters who were dimensional didn’t feel original, and I just wanted something more from them.
★★★☆☆ – Smoke was probably around 2.5 stars for me, but I rounded up. Because I did really enjoy the beginning, and I appreciated the interesting concept of sin becoming visible as smoke. Overall, I was disappointed, because this book had the potential to be something really great and it just fell short.
If you’ve read Smoke, I’m curious to hear what you think about it. Share your thoughts in the comments!
Smoke is available on hardcover and paperback. If you’re interested, you can pick up a copy on Amazon.
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose Smoke as one of your two free books.
This book was provided to me my NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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