Book Review: Smoke by Dan Vyleta



Title: Smoke

Author: Dan Vyleta

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Series? Yes. 1 of 3.

Book Depository // Amazon // Dymocks // Bookworld

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.

We all know that feeling when a brilliant premise is bogged down by it execution. The ideas and worldbuilding behind Smoke were excellent concepts. However, the book lost its footing a quarter way through – making the bulk of the novel a sedated, plodding read.


There is no more hateful smell in the world than the smell of Smoke.

The book begins at a private boarding school in an alternate Oxford, where all sins are made corporeal in the form of thick, black smoke. Humans are literally stained by their sin in this world. In London, smoke is especially widespread amongst the lower-class. It purportedly clouds judgement, making people of low socioeconomic groups become more susceptible to crime. On the other hand, the upper echelon of society seems to be untouched by sins and the taint of smoke. Our protagonists are Thomas and Charlie, a pair of friends who starts to question Smoke and the foundation of the world they inhabit.

Smoke was off to a riveting start, I loved the dynamics between the boys at the boarding school. Julius, one of the school’s prefects, exacts his cruel brand of justice on students who are susceptible to sins. His own unstained track records are one of the first hints of the corruption within the system of smoke. I also immensely enjoyed the relationship between Thomas and Charlie. I found their friendship genuine and complex – fraught with the tension of class divide.

The laws of Smoke are complex. Not every lie will trigger it. A fleeting thought of evil may pass unseen; a fib, an excuse, a piece of flattery.

Much of Smoke’s successes and downfall lies in the fact that it’s ultimately a mystery. Readers are pulled into the enigma of Smoke and the mechanisms behind it. The hints we get are tantalising and kept me turning the pages for the first third of the book. However, the information we obtain quickly becomes repetitive. While I appreciated Smoke making a commentary on societal divide and prejudice, I also felt that the book was too heavy-handed in its delivery of this theme and would have preferred a more subtle touch. Many of the scenes were Smoke were discussed quickly became uninteresting because of repetition. I was never fully satisfied with the way the mystery resolved (or rather, didn’t resolve) itself.

The other thing I had an issue with were the characters that were introduced in Part 2 of the novel. Initially, it excited me to see two interesting ladies introduced into the mix of an otherwise male-dominated cast. Yet, the book handled their characters poorly. Livia, despite her iron-will and opinionated mind, was quickly relegated to being the third side in an unnecessary love triangle (I have to say though, I really liked how the triangle was resolved). Lady Naylor had the makings of an excellent character: a lady scientist with hidden motives. However, we did not get to see enough of her, and I disliked her characterization later on in the novel.

I also found the pacing of Smoke uneven and especially painful towards the second half of the novel. The endless wandering and walking in Smoke gave me painful flashbacks to the very worst parts of Deathly Hallows – it seemed pointless and bleak. Unfortunately, unlike Harry Potter, it also largely went nowhere at the end. That’s my whole issue with this book, no payoff.

Regardless of my issues with the latter parts of Smoke, I still found the worldbuilding commendable in both its scope and details. Dan Vyleta has obviously given this world great considerations, and I love the questions that he managed to pose with this concept. The motivations and historical reasons behind the conception of Smoke were intriguing, I am disappointed it was not explored in more details. Instead, we got an endless litany of morality lessons, along with some truly bewildering character arcs.

What do you prefer? A great premise with poor execution, or an unoriginal premise with good execution? Of course, we would love to have both, but if I had to pick, I’d pick the second in a heartbeat.

20 thoughts on “Book Review: Smoke by Dan Vyleta

  1. The premise of this book does sound amazing, too bad it didn’t seem to live up to expectations! That’s always the worst! It has such a beautiful cover as well! The pacing would be such an issue with me as well, the second a books pacing slows down I start to loose interest, slow pacing is totally not my thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think everyone would pick good writing over good premise. There’s so many way a great setting can be ruined. It’s sad.


  2. I’d pick the second option in a heartbeat too. 😂 Because honestly good writing and execution can make ANYTHING glorious. While bad writing can just mangle a super awesome topic and it is the wooooorst. ALL THE PAIN AND TEARS. So this premise really interests me, but I think it has too many negatives for me to be dashing after it. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Aww that’s such a shame. It definitely sounded like it a solid premise that got bogged down by a lack of proper execution. I hate when that happens.
    I would definitely prefer an unoriginal premise with good execution than the first option.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am definitely so bummed, the disappointment of premises that don’t live up in the telling is too painful 😂


  4. I agree with you. I would definitely pick up an unoriginal premise with good execution over a poorly executed story with unique premise. In my opinion, good writing skills can make even the cheesiest and most overused ideas seem interesting. Such a shame really, this was the kind of book I would have bought without a second thought just for the blurb. Think I’ll save my money for some other book instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh I wish it was executed well, Aentee! 😦 I totally agree – I know I still love the “best friends fall in love with each other” trope, even though it’s been done to death sometimes, just because of how well some authors can execute it! Pity that a great concept has been mangled by poor execution! 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’d always prefer an unoriginal premise with good execution… in fact a lot of my favorite books fall into this category! It’s too bad that Smoke fell flat, it has such a pretty cover and an exciting new synopsis. However, from the sound of your review, I’m sure this would give me a headache… Amazingly well-stated review!

    Emily @ Reader Rising


  7. This sounds like a truly fascinating premise with people’s sins as smoke, even though it gets a bit too preachy at times. A shame that it kind of died down towards the latter half of the novel though. Lovely review Aentee!


  8. Execution is always key I think. It’s so disappointing when all the promise in a premise just never happens because of execution. There should be a rule of some sort about that lol!


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