Books I’ll never read #1 – Smoke by Dan Vyleta

I’m starting a new series on this blog called “Book I’ll never read.” Why? Because not reading is a choice we should be celebrating. Just because something is published doesn’t mean it should have been over something else. I do my research before reading or spending money on a book. My time has value. Our choices can help shape the literary market to make something fairer, diverse, and meaningful. What we choose not to read says a lot about the literature we do support and what kind of literature we want produced.

‘Sometimes scholars will need not just to silently make their choices without acknowledging the choices forgone, but to refuse, in a reasoned and deliberate way, to read what the literary press and the literary marketplace put forward as worthy of attention.’ – Amy Hungerford

The first book I refuse to read is:


England. A century ago, give or take a few years.
An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.

An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and coldhearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.
This is the world of”Smoke,” a narrative tour de force, a tale of Dickensian intricacy and ferocious imaginative power, richly atmospheric and intensely suspenseful.

This book seems overhyped. The concept seems cool – worthy of maybe a short story or music video. But the reviews on Goodreads are in and, just as I thought, there is not much substance there:

The reason for smoke it is not, however, as clear cut as it might seem. In fact were really created smoke was one of the fascinating mysteries that had me engaged in the story from the beginning; I wanted answers.’

I do think that the originality of this alone could have been a driving force for the story, but actually I felt as though this really wasn’t pushed as far as it could have been.’

And what drove me crazy — the whole book, the characters seem to strive toward doing something (a goal to save London) only to turn around (after accomplishing said goal) to say, “hey, let’s just see what happens if we did allow what we’d been trying to prevent to happen anyway – thus rending the whole “quest” completely irrelevant.

I think what bothers me is the fact that the aristocracy is said to not have smoke hovering about them. You’d think that it’d be the opposite. This book seems to play into the Romantic Victorian ideal that beauty=virtue, which we know is not the case.  Even before reading the book you can see the flawed system.



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