Book Review: Smoke
Book Worm and I both read this highly hyped novel by Dan Vyleta. It is described as by Amazon as a “blend of historical fiction and fantasy” for readers of The Harry Potter Series and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Book Worm and I seem less than enchanted with the book. Here are our reviews…
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
First Published: May 24, 2016
Reviewed by: Jen and Book Worm
Find it/buy it here: Smoke
Synopsis (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 coldhearted 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.
Book Worm’s Review: I have given this 3 stars. I really wanted to enjoy it more than I did. I was seduced by the comparison with Dickens, however, I didn’t get the Dickensian vibe when reading this. The ARC from Orion Publishing Group was marketed as “general fiction adult” but I would have classed it as Young Adult. Not a bad thing, just a different expectation.
I really enjoyed the start of the book, the scene setting, and character building in the boarding school, and the steam-punk feel to the story. However towards the end of the book I just found events to be confusing and the motivation of the “evil” characters is still rather a mystery to me. Yes, it was explained but it made no real sense.
Once again we were subjected to the love triangle trope and although the way it was solved was different, I would have preferred the book without it.
This book had the potential to be so much more than it actually was and it’s a shame that the early promise was not delivered upon.
Jen’s Review: 2.5 stars. Warning: full on rant ahead! This book had such potential and the first 100 pages were truly fantastic. I was drawn in by the description of this book. I too love Dickens (and Harry Potter and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) and like Book Worm, I did not see anything Dickensian about the novel other than the fact that it was set in London and had some discussion of social class. What a wonderful premise for a novel and what great potential to explore philosophical questions about human nature and the roots of evil or sin!
Unfortunately, it failed to live up to his potential. As I mentioned, the first 100 pages were great, but then it went off the deep end with so many convoluted (and highly contrived) twists and turns that this reader was left feeling aggravated. I think the problem is that the author let the plot overtake what was truly interesting about the premise, perhaps because he had no real answers for the questions he was trying to raise.
Book Worm mentioned that she found characters’ motivations to be confusing. No kidding!! Characters were good, no they were evil, no wait, maybe they were good again — oh who the hell cares? The characters spend half the time half-killing themselves to accomplish certain goals only to turn around 5 seconds later and decide to half kill themselves doing precisely the opposite thing. It’s hard to truly connect to characters or their primary “quest” if that quest keeps changing every 2 seconds. As Book Worm mentioned, characters’ motivations are weak at best and final resolution made me feel like I had wasted my time.
And then there is the love triangle: the plot device that many YA authors like to sprinkle in to create tension and make teen girls swoon. I’m pretty sure that it is the plot device that was plucked from my version of a perfect literary hell. Will she pick the brooding, sullen, potentially violent but devastatingly handsome fellow or the good-natured, always reliable but thoroughly boring fellow? The problem is that this was not a YA book and I am not a swooning teenage girl.
To avoid ending on a sour note, the writing was good and the premise was interesting. The first half was worth it and I will admit that the author does create a story that sucks you in if only so that you can try and wrap your head around the confusing mess of a plot (sour note re-emerges).
It does get quite a few 5 star reviews on Goodreads. With any luck, it might fall into that category for you. I will say I feel a tad miffed about that fact that a certain book group I follow was mercilessly promoting this book but maybe BW (who was considerably more polite in her review) and I are the odd ones out.
Want to try it out for yourself? You can find your copy here: Smoke
Have you read this book? Did you like it? Why are why not?