“Smoke” by Dan Vyleta is the first teen novel I’ve read in quite a while (Twilight was the first and last teen novel bandwagon I hopped on and I learned that lesson well.). But the synopsis on the back sounded interesting, so I took a gamble with it.
It is set in turn-of-the-century England, and the main characters are two school boys and a school girl. All come from aristocratic families of varying degrees of wealth. At their boarding schools, they are taught how to control themselves so they don’t emit smoke, and outward sign of inward sin and vice. Everything they’ve been led to believe begins to unravel over Christmas break when they discover revolutionaries working to dispel the lies that all smoke is bad. The three teenagers get thrown into the middle of it–first working to thwart what they think is an evil plot before, at the very end, finding their beliefs challenged once again.
While I enjoyed this book, it took me longer than I anticipated to read. The writing style was different, and I am frankly surprised that Doubleday (a subsidiary of Penguin) published it (though, I will be the first to admit my knowledge of the publishing industry is by no means vast). The book is written in first person, which isn’t my favorite to begin with. For myself personally, it slows down my reading, I think because my mind is so used to reading in third person I just get tripped up on something new. What was surprising (and at first, very distracting. I didn’t like it at all), every other chapter is written in first person from the perspective of one specific character. It’s one of those things I imagine the writers of the course I’m taking would say never ever to even think about doing. And from reading it, I can understand both sides. It was a little confusing at first, but more than anything, simply it was distracting. It gave a different feel to the whole book. Yet the farther in I got, the more I began to kind of like it. It gives unique opportunity to get to know the inner workings of individual characters, and gives unique perspectives to what happened in the previous chapter, allowing for detail and depth that would otherwise be difficult to capture.
The book was well written, but I have to confess to being a little let down at the end. The one event, the plot that the whole storyline hinged on, felt unexplained. I didn’t understand the “why” behind it, or perhaps it was the “how” that was missing, or a combination of both. Also, I don’t anticipate a sequel to the book, so the ending left me hanging, wondering what happened a month, two months, even six months later. Our protagonists commit an act not knowing what will happen. And there the book ends, without any hint at what did happen. I wanted an epilogue to tell me that. Or, perhaps if we’d had more detail into the “why” and “how,” it would have lent itself better to an educated guess. All we can really know, or guess, is that there was a smoke revolution in London, and everyone was infected, or affected. But what the purpose and aftermath of that was, is open to imagination.
All said and done, however, I enjoyed “Smoke.” I went in to it uncertain, especially the first few chapters in. But I don’t think it was an exaggeration to call it a “tale of Dickensian intricacy.” Vyleta did a good job providing just enough detail to keep me guessing at what exactly was going on, and whether anyone was truly the villain.
“Smoke” is scheduled for release on May 24.