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Smoke: A Novel Paperback – June 27, 2017
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
“Part Dickens, part dystopia and totally immersive; a book as eerie and atmospheric as its sooty muse.”
“Mr. 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), the children run away together to uncover the dark secrets of the grown-up world. . . . His ending, which I wouldn’t dare reveal here, is a real firecracker, and the lessons Mr. Vyleta wishes to impart are largehearted.”
—Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
“Compelling. . . . Deliriously imagined. . . . This gas-lamp fantasy at time borders on steampunk through the grimy lens of a dystopian past.” —NPR
“Smoke is one of the most original and enthralling books I have read in a long time. . . . An addictive combination of thriller, fantasy, and historical novel, with a dash of horror. It’s chilling and complex and amazingly imaginative.”
—Marilyn Dahl, Shelf Awareness
“Astonishing . . . It's filling in that gaping hole left by both Harry Potter and Philip Pullman's Northern Lights. Yes, really.”
“Flat-out thrilling.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
About the Author
DAN VYLETA is the son of Czech refugees who emigrated to Germany in the late 1960s. He holds a Ph.D. in history from King's College, Cambridge. Vyleta is the author of three novels, Pavel & I, The Quiet Twin, which was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and The Crooked Maid, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the J.I. Segal Award. An inveterate migrant, Vyleta has lived in Germany, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. He currently resides in Stratford-upon-Avon in England.
Top customer reviews
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Is it well written? Yes. Is it for everyone? No.
There are passages of beautiful writing here, and some effective changing narrators, but ultimately the story seemed silly and the premise was not very interesting at least to me. The novel's premise is that humans emit "smoke" when they sin, lie or have impure thoughts, and the resulting "soot" on their clothing could only be scrubbed from their linens with lye. Commoners would smoke with impunity, while well-bred Londoners would do their best to control their baser urges.
Believe it or not the main action in the novel focuses on various characters trying to find and manipulate people who, for reasons that are not entirely clear, do not smoke. There is some family drama and a love triangle that never really goes anywhere. I'm sure there is some allegory here about conscience and sin, but ultimately I got halfway through it and asked myself what enjoyment I was getting from the novel? I finished it to see if it would be able to recapture the spirit of the opening chapters, and when I finally put it down I have to say I was less than overwhelmed.
I love reading about Victorian London, but aside from a few passages about the smelly Thames, we don't get a whole lot of descriptions of the city. I think my favorite passage of the novel was the beginning, taking place at an "Eton" like school for boys in which there is a suspenseful interrogation of one of the key characters. After that, to me, this book went off the rails and never came back. Had I known the book was literally about "smoke" I would have passed.