“The laws of Smoke are complex. Not every lie will trigger it. A fleeting thought of evil may pass unseen; a fib, an excuse, a piece of flattery. Next thing you know its smell is in your nose. There is no more hateful smell in the world than the smell of Smoke.”
England. A century ago, give or take a few years.
An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.
An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie - knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and coldhearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.
This is the world of Smoke, a narrative tour de force, a tale of Dickensian intricacy and ferocious imaginative power, richly atmospheric and intensely suspenseful.
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.