Smoke by Dan Vyleta will be released on Tuesday, May 24th!
**I received an ARC of Smoke courtesy of Doubleday Books in exchange for an honest review**
Smoke by Dan Vyleta. Doubleday, 2016. 448 pages. Paperback/softcover.
(Note: This was not the cover of the ARC I received [this is the cover I received], and to be honest I'm not sure I like this final one too much. I feel that a more monochromatic/black and white cover would have been much more dramatic and stark and thus more fitting to the story. But anyway, on to the review!)
About a month or two ago I received a package that contained an ARC of Smoke, which I had never previously heard of, and within that package was also an adorable little tin of sweets (pictured below) that I assumed had to do with the content of this book (it did). I thought it was incredibly clever marketing and a fun addition to the story, and it made me that much more excited to dive into this book.
I'm honestly not sure where to even begin describing a novel such as this one. The basic premise of Smoke is both complex and simple at the same time: when people 'sin' (though 'sin' is a very vague and broad word, but I don't have another word to use), they emit smoke and soot that dirties themselves and their surroundings. The varieties of smoke differ according to each person and each particular crime or misdeed that a person commits.
Smoke takes place in a Victorian England type of setting, and the story begins at a boarding school in which young boys are sent to learn to control themselves in order to continue on with their elite, aristocratic families and political wealth. The plot lies in the inevitable doom that Thomas believes lies in wait for him, the rebelliousness of certain characters that want to 'rid' the world of smoke, and the adventures that take place as a result of these varying circumstances.
The multiple points of view in which Vyleta writes was rather unexpected, and although it at first seemed like it would bother me, it actually kept me quite engaged. There are switches between a third person POV and the POV of main characters, such as Charlies, Thomas, and Livia, as well as various other brief minor characters, which adds even more depth and intrigue to the many events and scenes of the story. Howeverm I did encounter difficulties discerning between the POVs of Charlie and Thomas in the first few chapters. At the beginning of the story, both boys are somewhat similar in their mannerisms, but I largely think that is the expected effect of growing up in such a strict environment such as the one they did. As the novel progressed, the distinctions between each boy began to grown and further push their personality traits away from one another. Charlie begins to distinguish himself a somewhat more controlled and level-headed boy, whereas Thomas is portrayed as more of a 'loose canon,' so to speak. Livia was also a very dynamic character who begins as rather uptight and struggles with her natural urges, or 'sins,' as she begins to develop and move away from her sheltered and strict life.
One area in which I think Vyleta excelled was in the dynamic transformation (though transformation may be a bit too strong here) of each character, which were wonderfully drawn out and detailed. Every change within a character happened very slowly, but very distinctly. One minor gesture or thought would occur, one minor emitting of smoke, and it is immediately apparent that that was a big moment for that character's change in this story.
Vyleta's writing is fairly consistently bleak and dark, which creates an atmosphere that I found immensely compelling and immersive. It became almost to heavy at times, as there is very little relief from the relentlessly dark atmosphere. However, this also keeps the entire storyline consistent - there is no chance to escape to another more hopeful or optimistic world.
Here's my main problem with this book: although I understood the process of smoking and what Livia's mother wanted to do (I won't say more because of spoilers), I always felt like I was missing something. Why exactly was everyone acting so dramatically? Why did the three children feel that they needed to hide out? Everything just felt a bit too drawn out and overly compensated for what the truth drama was. The writing wasn't necessarily disjointed, but every once in a while I had this sense that I was missing something important - and not in a good, mysterious way.
Overall, I am giving Smoke four stars for its unprecedented plot and immersive storytelling. I would have loved to give Smoke five stars, but there was just a bit too much uncertainty and lack of explanation that made this difficult to follow at times.
You might also like:
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
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