Smoke by Dan Vyleta is one of Cindy’s favorites in our Hugo reading quest. She spoke so highly of it that I thought I should read it also. I started off with the first disk of the audiobook, but when that had to be returned to the library I continued with the hardcover. The audiobook is great and the reader, Allan Corduner, enhanced the experience.
In our world, if you have a bad thought, likely no one would know. But in the alternate Victorian London that is the setting for this story, if you sin there is no hiding it because you emit smoke. This simple twist on reality is a creative and clever enough hook to get you into the story. It begins with two teenage friends at a boarding school for upper-class boys where they learn to control themselves and avoid smoking because not smoking is the visible sign of their superior station. Of course, nothing is as straightforward as it seems. A head boy who is a bad bully doesn’t smoke and then there is the fact that someone is collecting the vilest soot residue from murders … for what purpose?
Enter a pretty teenage girl who is sure of her moral superiority and a love triangle emerges. The three manage to stay friends as they try to unravel the mysteries and uncover a plot to use the smoke politically. Eventually, they come to question if smoke is always really that bad, smoke being a stand-in for sex, strong emotions, etc. The book is well paced and kept my attention, but I didn’t find the ending totally satisfying. Also, there were elements that didn’t get explained very well, like, um, the rest of the world, and many other things that were alluded to but didn’t get clarified.
I definitely recommend the book, especially if you can get the audio version. Cindy gave the audio version five stars and I gave the book four. Yes, the audio really made that much difference.