Welcome to a world where every desire is visible, rising from the body as a plume of Smoke. A world where bodies speak to one another and infect each other with desire, anger, greed. It is 1909 and this world stands on a precipice – some celebrate this constant whisper of skin to skin, and some seek to silence it forever.
Enter Eleanor, a young woman with a strange power over Smoke and niece of the Lord Protector of England. Running from her uncle and home, she finds shelter in a New York theatre troupe.
Then Nil, a thief hiding behind a self-effacing name. He’s an orphan snatched from a jungle-home and suspects that a clue to his origins may lie hidden in the vaults of the mighty, newly-risen East India Company.
And finally Thomas, one of the three people to release Smoke into the world. On a clandestine mission to India, he hopes to uncover the origins of Smoke and lay to rest his doubts about what he helped to unleash.
In a story that crosses continents – from India to England’s Minetowns – these three seek to control the power of Smoke. As their destinies entwine, a cataclysmic confrontation looms: the Smoke will either bind them together or forever rend the world.
There were times reading this book that I got a bit bewildered, it’s a bewildering book, and I mean that in a good way.
A lot happens and the plot roams the globe, from Canada to England, India to Brazil, the Himalayan heights and the Northern mining depths, offering an alternative history of the early 20th Century.
There are references to real events and people mixed in with the imagined and it feels like you’re reading a dense involved novel of the 18th or 19th centuries, again a good thing.
This is a book that needs you to focus, to pay attention, but is also a fun, at times irreverent, adventure story, with pirates, miners, strange creatures and actors. There’s a whole world housed between the pages.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.