Smoke by Dan Vyleta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a broad pool of dystopian stories, Dan Vyleta’s Smoke stands out as unique. The story is profoundly dark; an alternative early 1900s London provides the backdrop for a culture where virtue and vice determine social status. And vice is particularly easy to spot, since people literally give off smoke whenever they commit–or even consider–a sin. This dazzling concept propels Vyleta’s slowly unfolding tale of three young people who get tangled up in the political and moral battles that govern this world of smoke, which is (as you might guess) not exactly what it seems to be. While the shifting point of view that Vyleta employs was at times disorienting or unnecessary, I enjoyed this book. The main thing to be impressed by here? The imagery is insane. The imagined particulars of this world are fresh, deliciously disturbing things to consider. Vyleta also succeeds at creating opportunities to consider moral quandaries without leading to an oversimplified righteous path–there’s social commentary present, but zero assumptions made, other than that of an intelligent reader. I always appreciate that. Another cool touch: there’s much homage to Dickens. The quotes from Charles Dickens and other authors of his era that precede each section of Smoke really add a nice extra dose of gravity to each turn of this soot-soaked story.