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. – Smoke by Dan Vyleta
This book took me FO-EV-ER to get through. I am not sure if it was the page count (which was a little below 500 pages) that intimidated me, but it was the context that took me a while to get through. There was so much going on and the depth of Dan’s imagination and thought process had me reading a few chapters, then putting it down to think. Smoke is a beautiful blend of Dickens type literature mixed with alternate reality that literally blew my mind. It had the weight and feel of a Victorian era type Dickens novel, with modern themes of sin, destruction, and what causes a person to become “evil”. It is unlike any other book I have ever read, and I know I have a deep fondness and love for historical fiction, but I am still thinking and pondering this book after finishing this book. Dan touches upon themes that, even placed in the past, are still relevant in today’s culture. What would the world be like if every time we thought something horrible, ” sinned”, lied, was passionate, or felt anything of any kind we would begin to smoke? It is such an interesting and mind-boggling concept that nothing you felt or thought was hidden and all was shown out in the open for all to see. It covered your clothes, your hair, your skin, it came out of your ears, nose and mouth, an open display of the emotions and thoughts you felt in your utter most being were now on public display. Nothing you felt or experienced was a secret that only you knew, it would become something everyone knew. But it wasn’t just your smoke that would remain with you, but the practice that ultimately your smoke could and would take over the actions and thoughts of a different person. That your smoke could change the very being and fabric of another person. With the world we live in now with some much destruction, it is a scary thing to image someone else’s actions, behaviors, or thoughts (their smoke as you would say) could influence those around them. This was such a foreign, intriguing and brain thump of an idea and I admit, I am quite happy that if it never comes to pass.
Dan has the ability to take the grit, sorrow and truth of a Dickens novel and put an original twist on it that pay tribute to that genre of fiction, while keeping his own voice. If you have no idea what I am talking about then you need to go read some Charles Dickens, preferably Great Expectations. Smoke reminded me a lot of Great Expectations, and I am not quite sure why but it had a dark, Gothic element, mixed with the dynamics of class distinctions that are very present in Dickens as well as Vyleta’s work. Dan obviously did a great deal of work and research to portray this era of British history well, and as someone who studied history and is a historical fiction junky, it is evident of the time that went into make sure the era sounded authentic in his work.
Dan’s book was one of the best books I have read this year. Mind you it took me a good month to get through because it was just a deep novel, I didn’t just want to blow through it. I am going to try explain his writing so bear with me… it held a weight unlike anything I have ever read, which is interesting coming from a piece of fiction. Most books that have a weight and depth about them at this level are usually memoirs or non fiction. But as a reader, you a sense the time, thoughts, dedication, imagination, and attention to detail that went into his book. It felt that every paragraph was perfectly crafted to fit that moment or that chapter. There was so much detail, and information through out the novel I know I probably missed a bunch of information that would have helped me uncover the plot before I got to the end. Nothing was out-of-place in this book, and it is such a brilliant thing to read. Dan’s passion, research, and devotion to his work just oozes from the pages, as the reader gets swept up in the cloud of Dan’s imagination and attraction with Smoke. Smoke is griping, compelling, intoxicating piece of work that will leave you wanting more, and I certainly cannot wait to see what other work Dan brings out next.
Smoke was a far more compelling read than any other book that has been recommended to me to read for the summer. I would highly recommend you add this to your Summer/Autumn/Winter/Spring/whatever TBR list, it may take you the whole season to read it but oh my gosh you will love it! It is so freakin good! And if it wasn’t the weight of a dictionary then I would consider going back and re-reading it again to gain all the little details that I missed the first time around. But the sad truth is that there are too many books on my desk, and too many other books to read at the moment, so the re-reading of Smoke will have to wait. However, if you are looking for a historical, thriller, fiction to rock your socks off then you need to pick up Smoke. You may be upset that it took you so long to finish, but it will be time well spent!
PS- Dan Vyleta.. if you are reading this, I would be more than happy to read/review your next historical fiction novel/dictionary if you choose to write another one. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future!
Disclaimer: I was sent Smoke for free from Doubleday for an honest review. This review is of my own work, and I did not copy or refer to any other reviewers/writers/bloggers for this post. All content provided on “A Comfy Chair” is for informational purposes only. I make no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. I will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. I will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.
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