By Cynthia Ayala
“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?” —Goodreads
The Smoke Thieves is almost nothing like Green’s critically acclaimed best-selling Half Bad series. In some ways, that is great, but in others, it falls short as it navigates through an entirely different terrain of fantasy storytelling that fans would not expect from her.
The story takes five characters from different ways of life and countries, and as any fantasy reader can guess, their lives are going to converge at some point. It is predictable. As the paperback blurb states “a hunter, a princess, a thief, a soldier, a hunter,” as their lives and past have taken them on a journey that puts them all on the same continent, trying to figure out the same mystery of Demon smoke. There’s no way these characters are not going to converge; the real question is the how and when, and more importantly, the why. These three questions eventually become answered pretty much in the last quarter of the book.
A slow beginning, Green makes sure to focus her novel on not only world building, but character building. Green makes sure that she give’s the characters the vibrancy they need to make sure the reader can connect with the characters. Moreover, in a novel that is almost dreadfully too long, the focus on the characters, their development and journey keep the reader from forgetting how long the novel is, and instead keeps them eager to read on to the convergence point of these characters. They are all so different, so when they do finally come together, it is as if an explosion of light and energy has overtaken the novel.
The first three-fourths of the novel is not exactly slow, but it is not fast either. The pace works for the telling of the story, making sure each character has enough time to grow through the story. The dynamics shift, and internal narrative allows for the story to progress. So the pacing of the novel works for what it is delivering. It does not feel slow, and the intense moments, hose fly by so quickly, leaving the reader to gasp, enthralled by the storytelling.
The length of the story might feel a little intimidating to the reader, and the predictability of these five characters may be a deterrent, it is, after all, a typical trope that readers are familiar with, but the adventure, the mystery, and intrigue in the novel is well worth the read. The added element of demon smoke is also something else entirely. It is magical, and yet the scope in which it is created makes the idea of this “drug” so believable in this realm. It is captivating to read about learn about because, alongside the characters, the reader is learning about the magical properties of this smoke.
It is a journey for the reader as any good book should be, it just doesn’t have the same magic as the Half Bad series, it does not move as fast as it purposefully shifts between characters and focuses on world building and character building. Nevertheless, this novel has its own kind of magic that it weaves over the reader, and that is the best part. (★★★★☆ | B+)