I am not sure what to think about Smoke by Dan Vyleta. I put it on my list because of the things I was hearing about it. I heard great things. People were relating it to Harry Potter, and everyone knows how I feel about Harry Potter!
The premise behind Smoke is a good one. The alternate history, the supernatural nature, et cetera, are all fascinating. I think reading about alternate timelines is like talking about “what if” questions. They can, of course, be big or small. Most books would take the big approach, and this one is no exception.
In addition to an interesting premise, I think this book also has some quality and descriptive writing. Many passages hook you right away and the language just flows without many flaws at all.
Smoke has all the makings of a great novel. Unfortunately, that is all I really see here: just the makings.
When I first started reading this book, I was intrigued. I was imagining a post-apocalyptic scenario, though it would be combined with our history. I figured it would be a fusion piece…maybe steampunk influences?
I think the book started out really well. Would I have preferred it be a boarding school with both genders? Sure, but the all-boys decision was not that bad at all. I found that first “blow-up” quite fascinating, particularly with the aftermath and who was blamed.
I also enjoyed Livia’s introduction. She seemed like a strong female character and her depiction was just different enough to hook me. Same with her mother.
However, things changed for me partway through the book. While many may disagree with me, I am not sure that Livia or her mother fit as strong, feminist characters. It is hard for me to describe why I feel this way without spoiling parts of the book, which is something I try to avoid as much as humanly possible. After all, I remember being spoiled for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, part of Game of Thrones, and The Force Awakens. I hated knowing each spoiler. They all came to me in unexpected places, even when I was trying to actively avoid all spoilers.
Even though I criticize the characterization of Livia and her mother, having characters like that occasionally is not necessarily a bad thing. It just really hurts when they started out really well done and then the author pulled out the rug right out from under me. If you read it, let me know what you think about this characterization. Do you agree with me? No? I want to hear your thoughts!
There is one more thing I want to address in this review. Every so often, when the book moved onto a new part, they would include an epigraph. I loved every single one of them. I think epigraphs are an amazing way to open a book (or parts of a book, in this case). Part of me wishes they were more popular, but then again another part of me believes that if authors did use them more often, they would not be as effective as they are now.
Overall, I do think this book is worth a shot. Did I love it? No, but it is not terrible either. If you have read it, I would love to hear what you thought!
Author: Dan Vyleta
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers