The Smoke Thieves

The Smoke Thieves was written by Sally Green and first published in 2018. It is a fantasy novel that is set in a world where three nations are on the brink of war. The novel is the first part of The Smoke Thieves Trilogy and is followed by The Demon World (2019). The final instalment of the series – The Burning Kingdoms – is due for release later this year.

Princess Catherine of Brigant is preparing for her marriage to Prince Tzsayn of Pitoria – a man that she has never met. The only good thing that she can see coming from this union is that she will be finally free of her warmongering father, King Aloysius. However, she cannot stand the thought of being separated from her beloved guard, Ambrosius. She knows that if her father ever discovered the true extent of her feelings towards Ambrosius, they would both be executed for treason. However, it is becoming harder and harder to hide her affection.

Meanwhile, in Pitoria, two survivors of the destruction of Abask are hunting for the illegitimate heir of Calidor. March and Holywell are determined to have their revenge against King Thelonius of Calidor and what better way to do so then to sell his only surviving son to King Aloysius? However, when March finally meets Edyon Foss he is shocked to find that he actually likes the young thief. Yet their journey grows more complicated as their paths cross with two demon hunters – Tash and Gravell – and Edyon steals a vial of their illegal demon smoke.

As Catherine, Ambrosius, March, Edyon and Tash’s destinies slowly entwine, a greater conspiracy in afoot. King Aloysius is training an army of boys and has purchased vast amounts of demon smoke. Catherine and her allies need to figure out what he is up to quickly, before the tyrant king finds a way to take over the whole world…

Before I begin, I feel that I should give a word of warning. The Smoke Thieves is not the most graphic book that I have reviewed on this blog but does have some content that could upset young or sensitive readers. This includes violence, torture, bad language, (fantasy) drug use and the objectification of women. You have been warned.

The Smoke Thieves was, unfortunately, one of my biggest disappointments of the year to date. While the novel was clearly aiming to be a Young Adult equivalent to A Game of Thrones, it unfortunately did not have the same impact on me as this series. The problems with this book began with its world-building, which was high fantasy at its most generic. It consisted of three warring kingdoms and a vaguely described humanoid species, known only as demons, that occupied the wastes in between.

While the three kingdoms of Brigant, Pitoria and Calidor did have vague differences, all three seemed to be styled around Medieval England. Based on this, you can probably hazard a guess at the kind of themes that you can expect to find in The Smoke Thieves. Men rule the world, while women are basically second-class citizens (particularly in Brigant). The poor are almost entirely subservient while the rich spend their time stabbing each other in the back (often literally). Personally, I found all of this to be a tad unimaginative. It’s a setting that all fantasy readers have seen a thousand times before and it didn’t bring anything new to the table.

Yet my biggest issue with The Smoke Thieves was its pacing. The novel was incredibly slow and did not start to pick up its pace until around 90% of the way through the Kindle version. This was just too little, too late. The story is told from the perspectives of five different characters – Catherine, Ambrosius, Edyon, March and Tash – and I personally felt that this was far too ambitious.

Most authors struggle to maintain more than two narrative voices, and Green sadly did not do a good job of balancing five. The characters do not even all meet until very close to the end of the story and, prior to this, were spread across three different kingdoms. This just stretched the plot too thinly, resulting in me not really caring about any of the individual story-lines due to the fact that the novel jumped around so much.

The Smoke Thieves also ended rather abruptly. The “twists” concerning the importance of demon smoke and the ultimate plan of King Aloysius were both a bit too easy to guess, and so I did figure out exactly what he was up to a long time before it dawned on the protagonists. As the five characters finally joined together in what could have been an exciting climax, the story just suddenly ended. This did not resolve any of the loose threads of the plot, and ensured that focus never lingered on the epic siege of a small town.

In terms of character, The Smoke Thieves was also incredibly underwhelming. While I really did want to like the protagonists, the way that the novel rapidly cycled through its multiple narrators made it difficult to get to know them. While Catherine probably got the most development, as her escape to Pitoria gave her a taste of what life would be like a kingdom where she was not treated as a commodity, none of the other characters really grew at all as the story progressed.

Tash was probably the character who received the least development, as many of her early chapters just felt like filler and her deepest concern was buying a new pair of boots. Edyon and March’s relationship was more of a disappointment. While Edyon showed an immediate attraction to March, March’s feelings seemed to bloom from nowhere. Although March was shown to be a being of rage in his early chapters, this seemed to disappear remarkably quickly once he met Edyon. Yet, despite this, the novel never gave this mutual attraction chance to bloom into anything beyond a few scenes of mild intimacy.

There were also no shades of grey to be found in The Smoke Thieves. The villainous characters – Aloysius, Boris, Holywell – were all unrepentantly cruel with no redeemable features whatsoever. The protagonists, on the other hand, were all entirely virtuous. This was particularly exemplified in the character of Ambrosius, who did not seem to have any personality traits beyond being a chivalrous and loyal knight.

So anyway, I think I’ve probably rambled on for long enough. The Smoke Thieves is certainly not a novel that I would recommend as its plot is highly generic and the multiple narrators really bogged down the story. If you are a fan of high fantasy novels, there are certainly much more engaging ones out there. I’ll probably review the sequel to this novel at some point, but I am definitely not in any hurry to.

The Smoke Thieves can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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