“The cloud of Smoke, heavier than air and hungry for converts, descends into the crowd. You can watch it spread by the yard. In less than a minute it has reached Charlie. It’s like breathing in a drug: his heart begins to pound in his chest, his senses open themselves to the crowd. He ceases to think in terms of good and evil, he wants to see the woman die, wants the noose to break her neck, for the sheer thrill of it. And at the same time he admires her, hopes she will drag the executioner down with her, through the trapdoor under her feet; is ready to riot, tastes his own Smoke, grey and feeble on his tongue, and for the first time in his life enjoy its flavour.”
– Dan Vyleta, Smoke
I’m so incredibly excited to talk about this week’s 50 Book Pledge featured read! Dan Vyleta, Giller Prize—shortlisted and acclaimed author of The Crooked Maid and Quiet Twin, is back with Smoke, a literary fantasy thriller that left me shocked and winded after reading.
Smoke is described as “a tale of Dickensian intricacy.” The setting, appropriately, is in a century-old England, with a twist. In this world Vyleta has created, bad thoughts and deeds are marked by a visible smoking of the body. The evil inside is shown from the soot the body produces, and the citizens of this England use it as a way to police the population. Noble children are sent away to schools at a young age to learn about the evil that causes Smoke and to train themselves to be better. The aristocrats use the Smoke to prove their inherent goodness over the sinfulness of the masses.
Enter our three young heroes, Thomas, Charlie, and Livia. Though they’re all from drastically different backgrounds, they have one thing in common. They are all noble-born children who have been raised to believe that Smoke reveals their inner virtues. But as circumstances shift, the young adults are forced to acknowledge that the world isn’t quite as black and white as they once thought. It’s not a simple matter of good versus evil. And as they begin to learn more about their world and about Smoke itself, they must decide what role they must play in the future of their society.
If you’re familiar with bookstagram or other bookworm image sharing services, you’re probably somewhat familiar with the following quote:
And that pretty much sums up my entire reaction to reading Smoke.
This. Book. Is. Intense. I’ve finished it, reread most of it, and I am still so shocked by this novel. There were a multitude of passages that were so vivid and powerful that I had to stop reading and take a moment to let the words sink in. (Like the one above — the entire scene actually — that was so disturbingly good that I’m fairly certain I stopped breathing throughout it.)
The writing is exceptional. Vyleta creates a dystopian England that is so finely detailed it becomes utterly believable. There are pages where you can feel yourself walking around the streets of London. It’s incredible!
The pacing was wonderful; the narrative moves swiftly and keeps the reader intrigued from start to finish. It’s intricate and compelling and keeps you wondering where the plot will lead (which — spoiler alert — is never the direction you ever expect it to go).
Smoke is big departure from Vyleta’s previous works. It’s his first sci-fi/fantasy thriller, but you’d never know it. If you’re a fan of Stephen King, you need to check out Dan Vyleta’s new novel!
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