Soot (& Smoke) by Dan Vyleta – Blog Tour Book Review
Today I am happy to be part of the blog tour for the release of Dan Vyleta’s Soot (27/02/2020) – the follow up to Smoke (2016).
About the Book/s
‘The laws of Smoke are complex. Not every lie will trigger it. A fleeting thought of evil may pass unseen. Next thing you know it’s smell is in your nose. There is no more hateful smell in the world than the smell of Smoke…’
Smoke opens in a private boarding school near Oxford, but history has not followed the path known to us. In this other past, sin appears as smoke on the body and soot on the clothes. Children are born carrying the seeds of evil within them. The ruling elite have learned to control their desires and contain their sin. They are spotless.
It is within the closeted world of this school that the sons of the wealthy and well-connected are trained as future leaders. Among their number are two boys, Thomas and Charlie. On a trip to London, a forbidden city shrouded in smoke and darkness, the boys will witness an event that will make them question everything they have been told about the past. For there is more to the world of smoke, soot and ash than meets the eye and there are those who will stop at nothing to protect it…
Welcome to a world where every desire is visible, rising from the body as a plume of Smoke. A world where bodies speak to one another and infect each other with desire, anger, greed. It is 1909 and this world stands on a precipice – some celebrate this constant whisper of skin to skin, and some seek to silence it forever.
Enter Eleanor, a young woman with a strange power over Smoke and niece of the Lord Protector of England. Running from her uncle and home, she finds shelter in a New York theatre troupe.
Then Nil, a thief hiding behind a self-effacing name. He’s an orphan snatched from a jungle-home and suspects that a clue to his origins may lie hidden in the vaults of the mighty, newly-risen East India Company.
And finally Thomas, one of three people to release Smoke into the world. On a clandestine mission to India, he hopes to uncover the origins of Smoke and lay to rest his doubts about what he helped to unleash.
In a story that spans the globe – from India to England’s Minetowns – these three seek to control the power of Smoke. As their destinies entwine, a cataclysmic confrontation looms: the Smoke will either bind them together or forever rend the world.
About the Author
Dan Vyleta is the author of four previous novels: Pavel & I, which gathered international acclaim and was translated into eight languages, The Quiet Twin which was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, The Crooked Maid, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and winner of the J.L. Segal Award, and the critically-acclaimed Smoke.
He is the son of Czech refugees who emigrated to Germany in the late 1960s. After growing up in Germany, Dan left to attend university in the US, and he completed a PhD in History at King’s College, London.
He lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.
What I Thought
When I read the synopsis for Soot it sounded familiar although the word Welcome at the beginning made it sound like a new book/series. When the book arrived I realised I thankfully already had an unread copy of Smoke I traded so I have read that also in preparation for this post. I thought I’d try a slightly different type of review today. Hope you like it.
Do I need to read Smoke first?
Ideally yes. There is a small recap of the Smoke characters and actions at the beginning of Soot, although I think this is mainly to help refresh past readers. I think it would be harder to grasp what’s going on in Soot without reading Smoke first.
If sin were visible…what would the world be like?
This is the by-line on the cover of Smoke and the question the books answer. Power dynamics are the main thrust of this and money – the rich find a way to control it and look down on those who can’t afford to whilst, in actuality commit worse sins. This is a dystopia and as with all dystopias parallels to today’s world can be drawn. And often they are scary.
Dickens, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials are some of the comparatives mentioned – do any of them fit?
Most definitely Dickens. Smoke was inspired by a quote from Dombey and Son. I’ve not actually read that but for me Smoke definitely had echos of Great Expectations with an additional gothic Jane Eyre vibe. There are some very creepy moments and some Frankenstein comparisons also wouldn’t be misplaced. Smoke could be seen as similar to Dust in His Dark Materials and there are sinister adult characters lurking. Harry Potter slightly less so although we do open in a school and there is a Draco type character. On the whole the books are much darker – maybe more like the end of the Potter series where the Ministry is corrupt. The mystery element in Smoke reminded me a little of Kerri Maniscalo’s Stalking Jack the Ripper especially when they are rootling through a laboratory. The opening of Soot gave me Interview with a Vampire vibes with the theatre production. The series definitely lives up to some comparisons but is very much its own thing too. A magnificent hybrid.
What about the writing?
It’s sumptuous and rhythmic. In Smoke there is a slow burn, an unfolding of mystery and the start of a revolution. The book is told by a narrator but this is interspersed with first person viewpoints from a whole range of characters. Those who loved the style of The Night Circus with its gradual unfurling and payoff at the end will enjoy this.
Soot interestingly takes a different style and intermixes the structure of a five act play (to echo Eleanor’s joining of the theatre troupe) with historical artefacts including diary and textbook extracts. It feels like a historian unpicking the ashes of a revolution and has a slight distance to it. It is still beautifully written but without the previous connection to the characters got from reading Smoke it might alienate someone picking up book two after a long absence.
Will I like the characters?
Yes, they are all complex and multi layered. In a story about sin none of them are without fault and you will like some despite these and love to hate others because of them. The phrase – He who is without sin cast the first stone – comes to mind in answering this.
Will there be more?
The scope of book two was wider than the first, taking in much more of the world. I’m not sure if there will be more but there very well could be.
Would I recommend?
It really depends on what type of books you like or are in the mood for. These are not quick books to read, they rightly demand attention and raise interesting moral questions. If you are a fan of any of the comparison books or writers then I would definitely recommend picking these up and giving them a go.
Thanks to Orion and Compulsive Readers for my gifted copy of Soot for the purposes of review. Do check out the other stops on the tour.