Friday, January 12, 2018

BRIGHT SMOKE, COLD FIRE


Review of BRIGHT SMOKE, COLD FIRE by ROSAMUND HODGE
(first in the BRIGHT SMOKE, COLD FIRE series)

In this Romeo and Juliet twist, Juliet is more of a rank or role than any one person. Through dark arts she is given the power to detect if anyone has killed a member of her family and then she will be compelled to execute that person immediately. She is raised for this specific purpose, trained and groomed for it. Her mind will also be linked with another’s and this person, known as her Guardian, granted the power to command her against her will. Through this shared mental connection, the Guardian can both protect and control the Juliet.

On paper, this book shouldn’t work for me but it did. It has too many aspects that, thematically speaking, I generally dislike. Though an ardent Shakespeare fan, I consider Romeo and Juliet one of my least favorites, much overhyped and greatly misunderstood, and I usually dislike any twists on this play, especially when they underplay the family feud element. Along those lines I grow frustrated with stories too fixated on romance alone, especially if I don’t care much for the specific romance in the first place and it’s the centerpiece. Last, the dark arts I mentioned in this book involve a lot of necromancy and 9 times out of 10 if it has anything undead in it I don’t enjoy the story.

So why did this story work for me? Probably because it breaks the overdone tropes of these themes. The Juliet and Romeo do fall in love, but that takes place off stage and more as a precursor to our main story. In fact, this Romeo and Juliet twist is shockingly slim on the romance emphasis, much to my personal satisfaction. Instead Romeo and the Juliet find themselves each stuck cooperating with a once rival. The enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that, which does, of course, play up the feud and the ripple effect it has in this community. Last, for me at least, the undead in this book simply felt like tools for telling a good story rather than a focal point in which I can’t personally invest much.

My one complaint is that that a character is revealed to be trans and then the writing switches from using that chacter's preferred pronouns of the gender everyone assumed they are to the pronouns of the gender in which the character was born. Courtesy is to use a person's preferred pronouns rather than projecting how you see them onto them and I like seeing that reflected in modern fiction, too. 

I did not know this is the first in a series and fortunately happened to run into the author at a conference who warned me of as much when I mentioned I was almost done with her book. However, this is one of those cases where I find myself pleased the story isn’t wrapping up yet, because there’s so much left to explore within the world, the characters, the plot. Sign me up for the next journey!

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