Monday, September 19, 2016

ARC Review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Title: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 448
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When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . . . 

Before Bright Smoke, Cold Fire I was probably one of Rosamund Hodge's biggest fans! I loved Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound so much that this book was one of my most anticipated releases of 2016 and I made it my mission to get a copy as soon as possible. I was so excited for her newest retelling, this time Romeo and Juliet. She has done such an incredible job in the past with her standalone retellings! Her creative take on each story is amazing and I was totally expecting to be blown away by this one too. Instead I came away underwhelmed.

This extremely unique retelling is so complex, there is no way I could possibly explain it but I'll try to summarize a bit. The story is set in a fantasy world where the Ruining has taken over the world and revenants and reapers (basically zombies) roam everywhere except within the city of Viyara. This city is protected by blood magic that is maintained by the Sisters of Thorn, of which Runajo is a part. It is her mission to find a way to save the city and perhaps the world from the Ruining. Within the city there are two main families, the Mahyanai and the Catresou. The Juliet is the sword of the Catresou, meant to avenge them, and Paris is her guardian. Both Romeo and Runajo are Mahyanai. There is a ton of blood magic and other magic and religion and necromancers and gangs and zombies and murder and whew! this story is complicated. Bright Smoke, Cold Fire is definitely not a light read.

That entire paragraph is my main issue with this book. I knew going in that this would not be a typical retelling and that it might require me to think a little more than your average YA book. After all, that is why I love Rosamund Hodge so much! But this story was just too much. It is an interesting premise but for whatever reason it just didn't all mesh together quite like it should have. I was really sure who all of the secondary characters were and there were several times when I found myself totally lost and having to reread pages. I also felt like the story just kind of meandered along most of the time. Even when things happened that should have been shocking, the reaction was more of, "Oh, okay," than, "Holy crap what just happened!"

All of that being said, there were things I did like about Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. The story is not told from the points of view of Romeo and Juliet. Instead, their companions tell the story, which I really enjoyed. Romeo was way too sentimental and whiney even for me, with his constant woe is me and wanting to literally lay down and die of heartbreak. I didn't quite care for Paris either, to be honest. My favorite characters in this book were Runajo and Juliet. I loved the bond they shared and the struggles they faced, especially Runajo. Shockingly, there is very little romance in this retelling, but I think there may be more of that in future books in the series.

I did find the magic and religion aspects of the story interesting to the extent that they were explained and I understood them. The world building was incredible, even if it was way too much for me. There was a definite creepy atmosphere and the book does paint a picture that's easy to see while reading this. Still, I feel like Rosamund Hodge almost created a world that is too detailed and needs a companion encyclopedia or something.

Overall, this was an interesting story that was just too convoluted to truly enjoy. After thinking about this book for a few days, I can definitely say I want to continue the series now that I've spent so much time trying to figure out what's going on. Bright Smoke, Cold Fire definitely wasn't the work of art I expected from Rosamund Hodge, but it was still enough that I feel invested in the story and will read the next one.