I am mending from surgery and reading this giant book. Flipping page after page, devouring pretty words, precise and commanding. Sucked in by Daniel Vyleta’s command of language, his descriptions, his metaphors, a voice that purrs like Dickens, HG Wells, Jules Verne. Reading, dozing, dreaming. Once I awake from being chased through the grimy streets of London with the three teen protagonists. Charlie, Thomas, and Livia. A love triangle. The story seeps inside me like the smoke. I want to stop, but I can’t. It lulls like heroine. I must know it all, why it is how it is, how it ends…if it ends.
He hooks me on page one.
There is movement all around the dormitory. Pale figures stretching, rising, whispering in groups. Haste wrestles with reluctance. There are only a handful of candles; moonlight on the snow outside the windows, their panes milky with its ghostly glow. Soon the boys move in procession out the twin doors. Nobody wants to be first, or last: not Charlie, not Thomas, not even the handful of boys who hold special favour. Best to be lost in the crowd.
This is no Hogwarts.
Smoke is a virus: the visible manifestation of vice. There was a time before smoke, in the 1600s, when a man could sin and his body would not betray him by issuing streams of smoke. But the soot breeds like germs and as the English conquer the world, they spread it like the plague, like blankets soaked in smallpox. Now smoke is an industry, managed by the grand families through “cigarettes and sweeties.” And those looking for a cure are pursued and stopped. The upper classes do not smoke; at least, their sin is not visible like the peasants and the poor who litter London’s streets. They mask it, control it, like everything else. Of course, they are morally superior and must appear that way. There is even a bill in parliament to close the borders and contain it, to banish foreigners: a frightful link to now.
Baron and Lady Naylor, Livia’s parents, search for a cure, make it their life’s work, use science, laboratories, and pure untainted innocents captured from distant parts of the globe. But is it a cure, they seek? Perhaps, it is something else?
Warning: Smoke is no romance novel. Smoke is Steampunk, that new indescribable genre that crosses science fiction and fantasy with settings in the 1800s and modern mechanics. There is a man who has changed his niece into a clockwork girl to control her morality, her smoking. When she feels sinful she winds the screws a little tighter and hardly smokes at all.
What do you think of it, this smoke? Is it blowing our way, a black noxious virus breeding somewhere in our immorality? Or is this merely Vyleta’s crazed imagination seeking to explain what has been; or perhaps, warning us of what is to come?