“Tash used to ask Gravell all about demons, but now she probably knew as much as anyone could about something from a different place. And what a place it was. Not of this Earth, she thought, or perhaps too much of this Earth, of an ancient Earth.”
It is no secret that I am a big fan of the Half Bad trilogy by Sally Green. They were the books that truly got me into reading. And they first books to make me cry; I mean UGLY, WAILING, GNASHING OF TEETH crying. I felt utterly miserable for days, it was magical.
I was lucky enough to meet Sally Green at an event at Waterstones Piccadilly, London this month, in which I had my limited edition hardback of The Smoke Thieves signed and finally a chance to tell her how much her books mean to me. She told me that I had “…made her evening”. I fan-girled badly then tripped over as I was leaving. Let’s move on.
The Smoke Thieves is a story told from five seemingly unconnected points of view.
We have the Princess Catherine, who is being forced into an arranged marriage for her father and brother’s political gain.
Sir Ambrose, a member of Princess Catherine’s personal guard, who is desperate for answers after his sister is wrongly executed for treason.
Downtrodden servant, March, who is seeking revenge against the Prince for whom he believes is responsible for the slaughter and downfall of his people.
Edyon, a feckless kleptomaniac, who receives news about his heritage that will change his life forever.
Finally, thirteen-year-old Tash, who baits, captures and kills Demons for the purpose of selling the highly illegal ‘Demon Smoke’.
Set in a Kingdom that is holding tenuous peace on the verge of shattering; the fates of these five – Princess, Traitor, Solider, Thief, Demon Hunter – are inexplicably intertwined.
In typical Sally Green fashion, she takes her time to build up the world and set the story. Nothing is rushed and everything is pieced together with extreme care. There was no ‘info dumping’, all the necessary information was fed into the story clearly and in bite -size chunks. Like Half Bad, I feel The Smoke Thieves has set up the series nicely for more paced and exciting sequels. This isn’t to say that The Smoke Thieves is slow or boring, far from it. When building a house you need to get the foundation right. If you rush the foundation you are going to be limited, but if you take the time to build a sturdy foundation you have the freedom to build yourself a beautiful and elaborate house. That is what Sally Green did with Half Bad and it is what she has done here with The Smoke Thieves. If you are a reader that needs instant gratification, you will not enjoy this book.
Sally Green has a innate talent for writing her characters. Each is very much unique and has their own voice. My particular favourites in this one were Tash and Edyon.
Tash is brash, young and naive. But also very endearing. Being thrust into a life of danger and illegality at an extremely young age, she has had to learn how to fend for herself and does a remarkably good job at it.
Edyon has the intelligence to outshine most scholars, and he knows it. Paired with a sharp wit and a taste for doing everything he shouldn’t – he is one of my favourite kind of characters to read.
Princess Catherine is a character that grew on me as the book went on. I enjoyed watching her discover her power as a young woman and making decisions based on furthering her own political prowess, without those decisions demonising her as selfish.
The setting of the book is a fairly standard medieval fantasy world. Castles, Taverns, Forests, Horses, Travelling fairs, public beheadings and all that jazz. Although there are magical elements, especially in regards to the Demon Smoke, it isn’t a world with Magic Wielders. So if you’re expecting wizards and witches, you’ve come to the wrong place.
For the reasons listed at the beginning of this review, I will forgive Sally Green a few things I won’t forgive other authors for. But it is worth mentioning that I felt there were a couple of chapters in the book that are somehow rushed over. These bits stood out so much because the rest of the book is so steadily paced. Most of these moments were from Ambrose’s point of view, which was a shame as it meant I struggled to connect with him.
Overall I enjoyed the book and I get what she’s trying to do. I think it’s clever and patient of her to not give away all her tricks and twists in the first book. The ending is quite climactic and finally ties all the characters together, so although we are left on a cliff hanger, we aren’t left with any annoying questions that should have been answered in Book one.
But, I don’t yet feel totally invested in this story in the way I felt with Half Bad. I know I shouldn’t compare her works with each other, but it’s tricky not to given my past with the series. For that reason I am going to rate The Smoke Thieves
I recommend The Smoke Thieves to anyone who enjoys character driven fantasy, with political intrigue and who isn’t bothered by a slow build up or multiple points of view.
Quote © Sally Green 2018