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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


Smoke


‘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…


Soot


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.

Something to Live For by Richard Roper – Blog Tour Book Review #FindYourSomething

Synopsis

Sometimes you need to risk everything…

To find your something

All Andrew wants is to be normal. He has the perfect wife and 2.4 children waiting at home for him after a long day. At least, that’s what he’s told people.

The truth is, his life isn’t exactly as people think and his little white lie is about to catch up with him.

Because in all Andrew’s efforts to fit in, he’s forgotten one important thing: how to really live. And maybe, it’s about time for him to start.

Trigger warnings – Death and Suicide

Author

Richard Roper lives in London. This is his first novel, inspired by a newspaper article about the council workers who deal with situations when someone dies alone.

@richardroper https://twitter.com/richardroper

What I Thought

Excuse me whilst I just wipe away a tear or two and compose myself.

This is a story of loneliness, and hope too, with a strong cast of characters. I can totally see why the TV rights have sold.

Our protagonist Andrew is in his early forties and lives alone surrounded by model trains. He works for the local council inspecting the properties of people that have died alone to try and find their next of kin and enough money to pay for their funeral. He writes their obituaries and, although not part of the job, he attends their funerals, usually just with the vicar. Throughout there is a hint that he might be in danger of the same happening to him one day.

The massive lie he has kept going is both a source of comfort and anxiety to him and throughout the story there is a gradual mystery that unfolds.

I got completely swept away by Andrew’s life and laughed and cried along with this charming novel. In reality he’d probably be the source of ridicule but that’s what I love about stories, they allow you to step into someone’s skin and see beyond the surface. This book reminds us to take the time to listen to people’s stories and rely less on snap judgements.

I love how that each person him and his work partner Peggy find is given a name, a story and due care and consideration. There is one person’s tale that Peggy and Andrew get caught up in and there was one line in reference to this that bought a lump to my throat.

Of course things happen that mean Andrew’s world is about to be shaken but if that helps him “Find His Something” surely things can settle again? Can’t they?

Family, Friendship, Love and Humanity is all explored with humour and pathos by debut author Richard Roper and as well as a tear or three this book should also leave you with a smile and a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart.

Just one negative. I’m not sure I’ll be able to forgive the missed opportunity to make a subtle Platform 9 3/4 Hogwarts Express reference!!! 😉

Thanks to Tracy at Compulsive Readers and Orion for the gifted copy for the purposes of honest review.

Do check out the rest of the blog tour stops below.

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