The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green
From Goodreads: A princess, a traitor, a hunter and a thief. Four teenagers with the fate of the world in their hands. Four nations destined for conflict.
In Brigant, Princess Catherine prepares for a loveless political marriage arranged by her brutal and ambitious father. In Calidor, downtrodden servant March seeks revenge on the prince who betrayed his people. In Pitoria, feckless Edyon steals cheap baubles for cheaper thrills as he drifts from town to town. And in the barren northern territories, thirteen-year-old Tash is running for her life as she plays bait for the gruff demon hunter Gravell.
As alliances shift and shatter, and old certainties are overturned, our four heroes find their past lives transformed and their futures inextricably linked by the unpredictable tides of magic and war. Who will rise and who will fall? And who will claim the ultimate prize?
Thank you to Netgalley and Viking for the ARC of this book, in exchange for an honest review.
They say fortune favours the brave. Having already tried Sally Green’s Half Bad trilogy only to give up after book one, I wasn’t entirely sure this would be a book for me. As far as I remember, her writing style is pretty told rather than shown, with lots of unnecessary passive language which makes it feel as though it’s intended for an older middle grade audience, rather than YA as it is advertised.
When I opened the book and saw the first few pages, I was even more cautious. For the first 10-20% of the novel, I felt like I was crawling through honey to get to the next chapter. Although I liked Catherine’s chapters, I wasn’t sold on March or Tash, or even Ambrose, and I was keen to skip past them to get back to the one I enjoyed. And even then, the passive language made the snarky critic inside of me scream. There were so many lines which only needed a tweak to make them less passive and it really bugged me to keep reading them, especially because I know from querying and beta-reading that it is an absolute writing sin.
Thankfully, after I waded through that first section, things improved. I’m not entirely certain that the passive told language went away, rather the interesting plot developments and characters masked the downfalls of The Smoke Thieves a little better. Catherine’s sections were still my favourite, and I enjoyed reading scenes where her intelligent and courageous personality shone out, even as her father and brother tried to make her feel weak and useless. Catherine’s Brigant is a very patriarchal country, where women are not seen as equal, and as much as that annoyed me, I liked seeing Catherine challenge these views and put people in their place. And she did it so elegantly too, always with grace and poise. She instantly became my favourite character. Especially considering her awful father and brother. They put her through a lot, use her as a bargaining chip against her will, and punish her for anything they consider an indiscretion, despite Catherine’s initial promise to obey her father’s word as law.
March and Edyon grew on me too, if only because there were layers to their personalities. There’s a lot of humour in their scenes that made me laugh, and the whole mystery surrounding their discovery of demon smoke properties kept me interested throughout the novel. Tash still didn’t hold my curiosity, and her chapters were a bit difficult for me. I’m not sure why I didn’t warm to her, but I just couldn’t. I guess that happens sometimes.
It was great to see how these separate plots and characters eventually converged together, and the stakes are slowly but surely raised to scary heights, which pushed the pace of the book on enough. I was still disappointed with the passive writing style, since I thought the book deserved a bit more flair, and for that reason I’ve knocked a few stars off the rating I might have given it.
7/10 stars from me. I liked it a lot more than Green’s Half Bad series, and I’ll probably get the next book when it comes out, but the passive told rather than shown language grated on me a lot.