Thursday, October 6, 2016

ARC Review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Series:     Untitled #1
Pub. Date:Sept. 27, 2016
Publisher:Balzar + Bray
Length:448 pages

I have been craving more fantasy in my life this year, and have been seeking out new (to me) fantasy authors left and right. I totally got sucked in by the cover of Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, and the blurb piqued my interest as well. I can't recall having read a retelling of Romeo and Juliet in the last handful of years, so I was definitely intrigued.

In this take on Shakespeare's classic tale of star-crossed lovers, things have gone a bit more pear-shaped than the standard loved-and-lost scenario. Specifically, this white mist called the Ruining has swept across the land and wiped out sentient lifeforms, making them rise again as revenants (zombies). The city of Viyara is protected inside a magical bubble that is fed by the blood of sacrifices, only the sacrifices are being required in greater numbers and with greater frequency of late. A novice member of the Sisters of Thorn, Runajo, is determined to find the answer to save the city, no matter what the cost. Runajo's character would be the equivalent of Rosaline in the original play. To refresh your memory, she's the one that Romeo loved before Juliet. Runajo was a bit cold in her single-minded resolve to get into the great library and learn the secrets of her predecessors. The only problem is that the library is filled with mindless zombies searching for braaaaaiiiinnnnnsss. (Well, maybe not that simplistic but you know what to expect from zombies.) 

Romeo Mahyanai is still in love with Juliet in this book... well, I should say The Juliet (more on that later). When Tybalt finds out about Romeo and Juliet's secret love, he confronts Romeo in the lower city. Only Romeo's tutor, Makari, ends up fighting Tybalt and is killed when Romeo grabs his sword arm - much like the original story. (Makari is the equivalent of Mercutio's character.) 

The Juliet is now pretty much a slave. She has no name... every girl of her ilk is known simply as The Juliet. Beginning from birth, magical runes are drawn on her skin to make her the "Sword of the Catresou" who will punish those who spill Catresou blood. A guardian is assigned to The Juliet in a magical bonding ceremony that will allow the guardian to impose his will on The Juliet when necessary. When Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, is killed, the guardian duties are passed on to Paris (who never really expected the honor). Paris was insecure and mealy-mouthed, and a little in love with Juliet I think. He was bullied by his older brother (Meros) and his father, who treated him like an embarrassment to the family. But The Juliet is in love with Romeo, and attempts to bond him as her guardian instead. When Paris shows up, things go horribly wrong and Paris and Romeo end up bound to one another. This starts a reluctant friendship between the two boys who, to avenge The Juliet, must work together to discover what her father is up to with the necromancers.

After the bonding ceremony goes wrong, Juliet winds up in the same place as Runajo. These two never quite become friends. Runajo uses Juliet for her own means time and time again, so the relationship starts out tenuous and goes downhill. Juliet inspired my sympathy throughout the story, even though her personality was fairly cold and calculating.

This story was very complicated, and it was a lot of work reading it. The pacing was extremely slow and I had a really hard time relating it to the original tale. That could have been because this retelling was done from the third-person perspectives of Runajo and Paris. (No clue why some names were changed and some were kept the same.) I found myself spending so much time comparing the story to the play that I wasn't enjoying the reading time... so finally I gave up on the comparison and just tried to take this story as a new and unrelated work. Unfortunately, it just didn't work for me. I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters. In fact, there wasn't really one solid hero or heroine that I could sink my teeth into and hope they prevailed. Both Runajo and Paris were a bit mean and I didn't identify many redeeming characters for either of them. I was also disappointed that our doomed couple, Romeo and Juliet, have little to no interaction for most of the book. 

Honestly, I was disappointed and considered DNF'ing the book many times... but I was also a little interested to see how everything wrapped up. In the end, I just felt kinda blah about the whole thing. I think some areas were too detailed and it slowed down the pace of the story... but other areas weren't explained much or at all (the Ruining, the revenants, the discord between the different clans/families in the cities). The ending was somewhat unexpected and left me just a tad curious as to how things will continue in the next book... but I hope the rest of the series is faster-paced with more relatable characters.

I voluntarily reviewed an advanced copy of this book that I received from the publisher, Balzar + Bray.