Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Smoke- Dan Vyleta

Smoke- Dan Vyleta
DoubleDay Books
Release Date: May 24, 2016

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 a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.

Smoke takes place in an alternative Victorian England, where thoughts and emotions are marked by the Smoke that comes out of your body.  Smoke is considered a sign of sin and the goal of the aristocrats is to Smoke as little as possible, to prove their purity and right to rule England.  The main characters of the book, Thomas and Charlie, are students at an aristocratic boarding school.  Unlikely friends, Charlie is gentle and kind to everyone while Thomas is generally avoided because of his dark family past.  Thomas believes he is diseased, destined to be a murderer like his father, and wants to discover if there is any chance for him to be 'cured' from this darkness.  The two boys end up on a quest, searching for the true meaning of Smoke beneath the secrets and lies of the government, the aristocracy, and revolutionaries trying to change England forever.

The idea behind Smoke is a fascinating one- a dystopian England where your emotions are visible and judged, where dirt and Smoke is equated with sin and the class struggle is considered a forgone conclusion because the rich are "pure"and will go to heaven while the poor are covered in sin and have no chance at heaven.  Some of the characters become obsessed with becoming as holy and sinless as possible, others are trying to struggle against what their own darkness.  Some give in to the darkness and madness.  Others search for the true meaning of Smoke, where it came from, and how it can be manipulated by the aristocracy into serving their needs.  Our main characters struggle to discover the truth amid the lies and to learn to think for themselves to judge not only the truth but also what that "truth" can mean to humanity.

However, the book falls short of what it could have been.  The story is slow; the characters largely one dimensional, and generally unsympathetic.  The writing alternates between the first person views of various characters we never connect with and a third person present tense that seems to hold the reader at arms length from the story.  When we learn "the truth" of Smoke it is anticlimactic and while it could be world changing to the characters we never really seem to see their thoughts or reactions. What should be the most tense, revolutionary parts of the book fall flat and leave the reader unsatisfied.  The potential for world change seems to be more important than actual change itself.

By the end, the book is like the plot itself: full of potential but never reaching the emotions that could have made it great.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

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