“The laws of smoke are complex. Not every lie will trigger it. A fleeting through of evil may pass unseen. Next thing you know its smell is in your nose. There is no more hateful smell in the world than the smell of smoke…”
– Dan Vyleta, Smoke
If sin were visible and you could see people’s anger, their lust and cravings, what would the world be like? Smoke opens in a private boarding school near Oxford, but history has not followed the path known to us. In this other past, sin appears as smoke on the body and soot on the clothes. Children are born carrying the seeds of evil within them. The ruling elite have learned to control their desires and contain their sin. They are spotless.
It is within the closeted world of this school that the sons of the wealthy and well-connected are trained as future leaders. Among their number are two boys, Thomas and Charlie. On a trip to London, a forbidden city shrouded in smoke and darkness, the boys will witness an event that will make them question everything they have been told about the past. For there is more to the world of smoke, soot and ash than meets the eye and there are those who will stop at nothing to protect it…
When I first read about Smoke by Dan Vyleta, I knew I had to give it a try. The pretence of the story is this: if sin were visible, what would the world be like? I have always loved a book set historically, whether it be fictional or true and Smoke seemed like a perfect blend of history and magic!
Vyleta’s smoke is the only difference between his world and our own, although it is possibly set back during Edwardian times. The smoke is a visual representation of a person’s character; in Vyleta’s world, smoke is a measure in which behaviour is checked against. The smoke is a dark soot that stains the clothes and skin of the sinful. Anger, lust and deceit are all human vices that produce the smoke and of course, class is a defining factor in who smokes the most. The upper levels of society have learned to control their desires and contain their sin while the lower levels – the working class and below – smoke freely. Charlie and Thomas attend an elite all-boys school in the English countryside and it is during their first trip to London – the forbidden city of sin – that they realise the smoke isn’t all they’ve been lead to believe. The more they try to question the past, the more dangerous their future becomes. They get caught up moral, social and political dilemmas that will test their boundaries of what is right and wrong.
Let me start with the two main characters Charlie and Thomas. Charlie is the son of a wealthy aristocratic family. He is open and kind and behaves in a way that upholds the family name. Thomas is his opposite. He is darker, moodier and quiet and is burdened by a complex family history. The other character to note is Julius, a fellow class mate of the boys. Julius is also from a wealthy aristocratic background and he takes it upon himself to conduct late-night tribunals where he bullies the students into admitting their sin and humiliating them in front of their peers. I really enjoyed most of the characters in the book. In a character-driven story, they have been carefully constructed and well-thought out, especially the crazy ones. Their often maniacal and obsessive behaviour was convincing; there were times when I wanted to flinch away. Vyleta explores the ideas of genetic inheritance and family authority and the relationships between family members, especially that of a mother/daughter pair, was really interesting to see. Unfortunately, this is the only part of the story I enjoyed.
I really struggled with Vyleta’s writing style. It often felt long-winded and lacking a point; there were times when I felt that Vyleta became so bogged down in the details of the smoke and what it means and does, that the plot was lost. The first half of the book was good however as the story progressed, I found it harder to keep up.
Overall, Smoke didn’t exactly turn out the way I hoped however I am sure there will be many fantasy readers who will appreciate it much more than I did!
AUTHOR: Dan Vyleta
PUB DATE: June 2016
Thank you to Hachette for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!