Thank you Netgalley and Doubleday for providing an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: 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 mother and daughter, and a mother and son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.
I’ve really enjoyed Dan Vyleta’s previous books, particularly his historical mystery The Quiet Twin, so I was quite excited when I was approved on NetGalley for an e-ARC of his first historical fantasy. Despite its fascinating premise though I felt the story was overlong, and too convoluted in places, which kept me from enjoying it fully. Another problem I had was with the characters. Except for Thomas and Charlie, two of the main characters, I couldn’t stand any of the others. This includes Livia who rounds out the trio of heroes. She’s snobbish, judgemental and a religious fanatic. Unlike Thomas and Charlie she has very little personal growth through the book which makes the love triangle that develops between her and the two boys completely unbelievable. I also found myself wishing that the world building had been more fully developed. Beyond the concept of Smoke, there weren’t any other mystical elements which could have added some much needed layers to the story. For me, wrapping an entire book around one element is always risky, and in this case it just didn’t work. Smoke has been compared to Harry Potter and Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, but in my opinion it doesn’t really live up to the hype. However, it has already garnered many positive reviews, so if you do like historical fantasy or alternate history novels, I encourage you to try this.