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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.

Zero Bomb by M.T. Hill – Book Review

Synopsis

Following the death of his daughter Martha, Remi flees the north of England for London. Here he tries to rebuild his life as a cycle courier, delivering subversive documents under the nose of an all-seeing state.

But when a driverless car attempts to run him over, Remi soon discovers that his old life will not let him move on so easily. Someone is leaving coded messages for Remi across the city, and they seem to suggest that Martha is not dead at all.

Unsure what to believe, and increasingly unable to trust his memory, Remi is slowly drawn into the web of a dangerous radical whose ‘70s sci-fi novel is now a manifesto for direct action against automation, technology, and England itself.

The deal? Remi can see Martha again – if he joins the cause.

Author

M.T. Hill was born in 1984 and grew up in Tameside, Greater Manchester. He is the author of two novels set in a collapsing future Britain: Dundee International Book Prize 2012 finalist The Folded Man, and 2016 Philip K. Dick award nominee Graft. He lives on the edge of the Peak District with his wife and son.

Zero Bomb was released on 19th March 2019 so is available now.

What I Thought

A clever speculative fiction/dystopia exploring the effects of automation on society. For me it felt almost like a cross between Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Terminator with shades of Station Eleven.

The book is told in 5 parts. Part 1 focuses on Remi and most closely follows the synopsis above, Part 2 is an abridged version of sci-fi novel The Cold Veil (Prologue, Ch 1, Ch 13 and Epilogue), Part 3 is one sided correspondence from a woman in the cause on how they target Remi, Part 4 focuses on Martha and Part 5 on THEMIS!!!

This actually worked fairly well although I would have liked to come back to Remi’s point of view towards the end. Part 4 allowed the reader more knowledge than Martha which ramped up the tension and curiosity. Part 5 perhaps leaves scope for follow up?

Most importantly I would really love to read a full version of The Cold Veil. This was the most Terminator like part of the story with a full robot takeover and part of it took place in Southampton and the New Forest – so not too far from me. Also I love when the power of stories is explored and the family relationships in this were so well described in such a short space of time.

In the main story Remi and Martha are both sympathetic characters in their own right and I did connect most with their aspects of the story although they actually have very little time together. The robotic fox Rupal was also a very dynamic character and perhaps not what she first seems.

There is a lot of social commentary in the early part of the book exploring automation, Brexit and referendums get a mention, increasing racial tensions and the mental health effects of the build up of bad news. I empathised so much with Remi’s need to switch off from the latter but also with the concern that the lack of engagement can also cause. It’s a real balancing act in today’s connected life.

How people are radicalised into committing terrorist acts even when they start off with positive intentions was also examined. The Zero Bomb of the title is the goal to switch off electricity and stop automation – how would we cope?

This book has left me with lots of questions and ponderings and I suspect I shall do a re-read in the future. I do wish that some aspects and relationships had been explored in a little more depth, especially how the sci-fi author moves from novelist to activist when the world isn’t quite as dire as in her imagined future (at least not yet).

I switched to this for the Care of Magical Creatures prompt for the #OWLsReadathon2019 because it had a land animal (Fox) on the front) and I really wasn’t enjoying my first pick. I made the right choice and read this in a day. It was really well paced and I could easily imagine the future London described.

I was gifted this copy by Lydia at Titan books for the purposes of this honest review.

The Devil’s Poetry by Louise Cole – Blog Tour Book Review

Goodreads Link

Synopsis

Questions are dangerous but answers can be deadly.

Callie’s world will be lost to war – unless she can unlock the magic of an ancient manuscript. She and her friends will be sent to the front line. Many of them won’t come back. When a secret order tells her she can bring peace by reading from a book, it seems an easy solution – too easy. Callie soon finds herself hunted, trapped between desperate allies and diabolical enemies. The Order is every bit as ruthless as the paranormal Cadaveri.

Callie can only trust two people – her best friend and her ex-marine bodyguard. And they are on different sides. She must decide: how far will she go to stop a war?

Dare she read this book? What’s the price – and who pays it?

Commended in the Yeovil Prize 2016, this is an action-packed blend of adventure, fantasy and love story.

Author

Louise Cole has spent her life reading and writing. And very occasionally gardening. Sometimes she reads as she gardens. She can be seen walking her dogs around North Yorkshire – she’s the one with a couple of cocker spaniels and a Kindle. She read English at Oxford – read being the operative word – and hasn’t stopped reading since.

In her day-job she is an award-winning journalist, a former business magazine editor and director of a media agency. She writes about business but mainly the business of moving things around: transport, logistics, trucks, ships, and people.

Her fiction includes short stories, young adult thrillers, and other stuff which is still cooking.

Her YA and kids’ fiction is represented by Greenhouse Literary Agency and she is also published on Amazon as one of the Marisa Hayworth triumvirate.

What I thought

I loved the opening paragraph which was so evocative.

“I’d never realized war could be so quiet. The National Service letters had whispered through our doors that morning. It seemed such thin pages should have torn under the strain of such a heavy message.”

Initially because of this I thought this was going to be an historical novel – I’d read the synopsis ages before so went into it blind, but then the horror dawned. It was set now. In the days of Facebook and terrorism: National Service – Involuntary Conscription for those eighteen and above was back.

Callie is seventeen so it’s not her time yet but instead she has another battle to face. One night she is handed a book and told not to read it but keep it safe. Then the ‘men’ start coming for her. The Cadavari with haunted eyes.

This reminded me a little of Buffy which I love. There is definitely a chosen one vibe. The book switches between first person POV from Callie and third person exploring other character’s points of view from the Cadaveri to Jace Portman the man who mysteriously gave her the book, saved her life, disappeared, and then turned up at her school as a supply teacher. Callie has two close friends Amber and Gavin who are quickly pulled into the action and her ex Alec who she’d prefer to be far from it.

I really enjoyed Louise’s writing style and the book is quite fast paced. We get into the action quickly. I liked the mix of an almost dystopian near future with the threat of war and National Service with the Supernatural elements. As I said before fans of Buffy, and of Cassandra Clare should enjoy this. And it is great to see a UK based fantasy too.

Thank you to Louise and Faye for the e-copy for review. Opinions are my own. The follow up book ‘On Holy Ground’ will be going up on KDP Select shortly, I’ll definitely be ‘Reading’ it. I just hope the Cadavari don’t show up for me 😜.

Do check out the rest of the tour stops to see what everyone else thought.

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