Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Release: September 27th 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Retellings, YA
#1 in the Bright Smoke, Cold Fire duology
Sequel: Untitled (#2)
When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.
The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.
Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.
Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.
Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting...
I am very disappointed. I had so much faith in this book and its premise, as well as Hodge's skill as an author, but ultimately, this novel couldn't deliver what I wanted.
Mostly, I blame it on the lack of atmosphere and lack of interesting characters. There were no distinguishing characteristics that set this novel's setting of Viyara apart from all the other dystopian cities and countries, and for a novel that desperately needed something to catch the reader's interest and would have really benefitted from an intriguing setting, it was a fatal blow. Usually, when (good) novels lack atmosphere, there's always another aspect that makes up for it somehow. That wasn't the case here. Not to mention that there's so much info dumping about the history and poilitics system of the setting, but none of it ever made any sense.
As for characters, I really didn't find any of them interesting except for Juliet. Juliet at least had conflict and character development, because she goes beyond what is expected from her, while still protecting the family that has enslaved her despite it all. I really liked that, as well as the fact that she was supposed to be more of a mindless killing machine, but she actually had a personality. She had thoughts and feelings and her own desires. And she changes her mind about some things through the novel, she actually has a character arc that you can visibly see and track throughout the book! Runajo wasn't too bad either, but personally, I could never see her developing that much. She makes such a stupid and fatal mistake towards the very end that could have been easily avoided if she would have had learned something.
Don't get me started on Romeo and Paris. They were blundering, blubbering idiots stumbling through the city. Their POV was so boring I really had to force myself not to skip them entirely. Especially Romeo was nigh unbearable with his constant pining and moronic self-sacrifice. He was much like he is in the actual play... which really wasn't a good thing in this case.
And then the pacing was just so terribly off throughout the entire novel. The exposition takes ages. I usually go in blind with most novels, only knowing very basic things as to what it's about, and I did so with this one as well. And then at about 15% through, I literally could not fathom in which direction we were headed, so I read the synopsis and it wasn't until after 30% through that all of the events that are predicted in the synopsis even come to happen. I'm sorry, but that's bad storytelling, because for almost a third of the whole book we're not reading anything new and unexpected — and that is just boring. I thought once we were past that horrible beginning, things would finally pick up and make more sense, but nope. There was never a clear endgame in sight and there was no way to predict the outcome, which usually is a good thing, but not if I constantly feel like I am wearing a blindfold and walking around in the dark. Plus, Paris/Romeo's and Juliet/Runajo's quests never seemed to work towards the same cause... which was confusing for one, but also made me question what happened would be useful at all later on. Their missions did interconnect here and there, but generally, they stayed very separate. Mild spoiler, but the two teams also never meet up.
Lastly, the writing. Hodge usually wins at least some brownie points with her haunting, beautiful writing style, but I have to be honest here — her writing didn't to anything for me in this novel. There were absolutely zero quotes that I found memorable or wonderful, I have nothing marked. It was a shame.
The only good thing was that I was constantly wondering if this novel could get any gayer, and then it did. Also, the way that she "racebent" the Montague/Mahyanai family into being dark-skinned was very inclusive and I really liked that aspect. I'm not sure yet whether I'll read the sequel and I wouldn't really recommend giving this one a try, to be honest.