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Smoke by Dan Vyleta. Book review

July 15, 2016


Smoke is a world where children are born with sin, visible as smoke which leaves soot behind on their clothing. The ruling elite go to great lengths to ensure they remain spotless. Two friends, Thomas and Charlie, are about to find out just how far.

Smoke has the feel of a book Dickens would have written if he were alive today. He was a man who knew how to entertain and reach a wide readership. Pitched as a young adult book, the story is perfectly capable of pulling in an adult audience as well. The detailed descriptions (very reminiscent of Dickens’s style) seep with atmosphere, plunging the reader headlong into a social study of a world where status is defined by the degree to which you can control your emotions, so you do not smoke, no matter what.

This is an alternative Victorian world where the children of the privileged are sent to establishments the equivalent of a strict boarding school and taught, through intensive training and terrorisation, not to smoke. Their success in the social strata depends on it. Those without the financial means to undergo this process will show their sinful thoughts by emitting smoke, the ash residue staining their clothing in a visible record of their lack of control, and status.

From the sinister beginning where the boys are being tested and punished for openly displaying their sinful thoughts, there is a constant underlying sense that, you, the reader, might not measure up to the elites’ exacting standards.

Smoke is a world of terrifying repression and relentless adventure, where the young protagonists end up not knowing who to trust and crises loom in quick succession.

In short, it is the kind of book that leaves you feeling wrung out and rather exhausted, in the best kind of way, because you’ve been dragged right into all of Thomas’s and Charlie’s perils.

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