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.
Review: Smoke has a fantastic premise and a wonderful blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and dystopian elements. Set in an alternative Victorian England, sin is a physical substance and appears in the form of an ugly smoke that leaks directly from a person's body. Any immoral thought, however small, is easily detected. The concept of the smoke is what pulled me into this book. The moral questions surrounding sin are captivating and innumerable such as: are humans naturally inclined to sin or think "bad" thoughts and if so, does that make sinning a normal behavior? Do people behave morally for the sake of true goodness or is it to prove to others how much better they are?
Smoke is mainly told in third person although there are short chapters told from the character's first person point of view which can be jarring at first. The plot is slow burning and at times drags as the author takes his time expounding on the atmospheric setting and establishing the three main characters in the story. Thomas Argyle and Charlie Copper are two young, upper-class best friends, who attend a boarding school where students are cleansed from the Smoke. Thomas, due to his upbringing and past, is naturally drawn to the Smoke whereas Charlie can mostly escape from it. Both boys build a natural friendship, mostly our their mutual dislike of one their classmates. Over Christmas holidays, Thomas and Charlie meet a girl named Livia, a prefect at another school, the attractive daughter of Baron and Lady Naylor. Naturally both boys are drawn to Livia for different reasons and a love triangle is formed. While the love triangle was annoying, it didn't overwhelm the plot and I was more engrossed in finding more about the Smoke.
The story picks up pace and action when Thomas learns a shocking secret that sets up the characters for a quest to learn about the origins of Smoke and the maleficence behind it. This aspect of the book reminded me a lot of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Like many quests there are plenty of twists and turns in the story. The ending doesn't end in a cliffhanger but it is left open suggesting there is a sequel in the works. I really hope there is one because there is so much left to explore in the world that the author created and the questions about the Smoke go unanswered. I mostly enjoyed it and I would be willing to read more about this world should the author chose to write more. Overall, there are a lot of things in Smoke that will interest a wide range of readers, especially those who enjoy a cerebral fantasy.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images including a live execution scene and some minor language. Recommended for older teens and adults.
If you like this book try: His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon