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-Dan Vyleta writes with intricacy and imagination and skillful pacing; never once would I have considered putting his book down. In the manner of both a Dickens novel and the best young adult adventure stories (the Harry Potter series among them). . .his ending, which I wouldn't dare reveal here, is a real firecracker.---Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
Welcome to a Victorian England unlike any other you have experienced before. Here, wicked thoughts (both harmless and hate-filled) appear in the air as telltale wisps of Smoke.
Young Thomas Argyle, a son of aristocracy, has been sent to an elite boarding school. Here he will be purged of Wickedness, for the wealthy do not Smoke. When he resists a sadistic headboy's temptations to Smoke, a much larger struggle beyond the school walls is revealed. Shortly thereafter, on a trip to London, Thomas and his best friend witness events that make them begin to question everything they have been taught about Smoke.
And thus the adventure begins... You will travel by coach to a grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories; where young love blossoms; and where a tumultuous relationship between a mother and her children is the crucible in which powerful passions are kindled, and dangerous deeds must be snuffed out in a desperate race against time.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Vyleta’s latest is a fiercely inventive novel set in a late Victorian Britain at once recognizable and intricately transformed. Best friends at an elite boarding school, Charlie Cooper and Thomas Argyle accept the way their world works: dark thoughts and deeds immediately cause black “Smoke” to emanate from human bodies, and the upper classes rule by virtue of being visibly more pure than the lower. Then the friends spend Christmas at the baronial home of Thomas’s uncle Baron Naylor, and everything changes. They are both attracted to his daughter, Livia, and her half-brother, Julius Spencer, Thomas’s cousin and a prefect at their school, hides a violent soul behind an irreproachable persona. Meanwhile, Lady Naylor is conducting secret research that throws everything they believe—from the texts of the Bible to the very nature of Smoke—into doubt. After investigating her laboratory and being attacked by an unknown assailant, Livia and the boys make for London, where they risk their lives for the chance to change their nation and themselves. Though its pacing falters a bit mid-book, Vyleta’s (The Crooked Maid) bold concept and compelling blend of history and fantasy offer a provocative reflection on the nature of evil, power, belief, and love. Dickensian in its imaginative scope and atmosphere, Smoke will have readers glad that a sequel is already underway. (May)
Where there's smoke . . .
Perhaps you think it’s easy to spot beneficiaries of wealth and privilege in today’s society, but it is a lot easier in the late-Victorian England conjured by Dan Vyleta in Smoke, an inventive quasi-dystopian fantasy. The aristocracy are distinguished from the lower classes by one significant and immediately noticeable trait: The lower classes emit thick black smoke—or, as it appears here, Smoke.
This is an England in which babies turn black with Smoke and the resulting Soot minutes after they’re born; it’s the “dark plume of shame.” Think a bad thought or tell a falsehood, and tendrils of Smoke will alert the world to your misdeed.
The novel begins at a boarding school in which 200 upper-class boys are receiving a “moral education” to cure them of the evil they are born with. Two of them become best friends: wealthy Charlie Cooper and Thomas Argyle, whom one of the school’s young prefects, Julius Spencer, suspects of harboring a reprehensible secret.
At Christmas, the headmaster asks Charlie to accompany Thomas to the home of Baron Naylor, Thomas’ uncle. Keep an eye on Thomas, the headmaster tells Charlie, but he doesn’t say why. What follows is a shocking visit in which both boys become enamored of the baron’s daughter, Livia; discover experiments conducted with the Soot of prisoners; learn the mysterious properties of a tin of sweets; and uncover the real intentions of not only Julius but also the school’s masters.
From the houses of Parliament to London streets dense with costermongers and their handcarts, Smoke is an action-packed adventure that raises provocative questions about religion versus reason. As one character says in the second half of the book, Smoke isn’t necessarily evil. One person’s wickedness is another person’s humanity. That’s the kind of subtle observation that makes a smart thriller easy to spot.