Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Smoke by Dan Vyelta
In England, the reign of Smoke has lasted 300 years. It is a portrayal of sin; whenever someone has a sinful thought or deed, smoke pours from every orifice on their body. The rich and powerful don't smoke, or so one would think. They send their children at a young age to boarding schools where they are punished and manipulated until they can control their tendency to smoke.
Boarding school is where Charlie and Thomas meet. One is the son of a powerful aristocratic family, the other a scholarship student whose family was wrecked when his father got into a bar brawl and killed a man. Unlike in every way, somehow they become best friends. They unite against the brutality of the head boy, Julius. Charlie is a good boy and sure that the way society is set up is the best. Thomas has a dark streak he fights against. Slowly, they start to realize that perhaps Smoke is not the way the world is supposed to work. Things they see on a class visit to London (The Great Smoke) make them question why the lower classes must be consumed in sin and smoke while the upper classes rise above all the poverty and crime. Rumors they hear about how England was before the Smoke and how other countries still exist without it make them more curious and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Over break, they visit the country estate of a wealthy family where they hope to pick up some answers. They meet the daughter of the family and both boys develop a fascination for her. They start to discover that the family is the centerpiece of a resistance to the Smoke society; the father driven mad by his studies, the mother drawn into a vast conspiracy to bring down Smoke. Unfortunately, it turns out Julius is the mother's first son although he has been raised by his father elsewhere. When he comes for a visit, he pits himself against the two boys and his half-sister and violence ensues. When the three flee, Julius sets himself as their punisher and starts to track them. Can the three elude Julius and the forces of Smoke long enough to discover the truth
Smoke is a fascinating novel. Vyelta creates a Dicksonian-like environment of downtrodden poor against privileged rich. His world building is first rate and the reader is transported to the vile underground where crime and poverty mix to create an atmosphere of fear but one where people can still be kind and generous. The tension between the three main characters is intriguing, and the reader is torn between supporting the simple kindness of Charlie or the darker interesting personality of Thomas. There is political intrigue and the eternal battle between good and evil. This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.