The premise of this book was really intriguing to me. It seemed very dark and mysterious. The story takes place in Victorian Era London, where people let off smoke for any lie, excuse, deed, or even bad thought. They leave ash marks on their sheets, and may even combust due to their evil sins. The smoke is a designation of stature in society. The aristocrats are taught how to control the smoke, while the poor are uneducated, and are covered in soot. Thus creates the rich vs the poor view in society.
The story follows two boys, Thomas and Charlie, who meet at an elite boarding school, where they are taught how to control their smoke, and are bullied to confess their sins. They are taken on a field trip where they witness a hanging in the streets of London, and one of the boys witnesses someone scraping the soot of the hanged woman, to what purpose we do not know.
During the holidays, the boys are invited to a relatives large estate, where they meet Lady Naylor and her daughter Livia. At this estate, they learn the history of smoke , and learn that not all they were taught is true. Here, they find out the secret behind why the elite do not smoke, and why someone might be collecting soot from the poor. They learn that Lady Naylor is a scientist, trying to follow in her husband’s footsteps, trying to solve a mystery behind the smoke. Here, their lives become in danger, and an all-out chase throughout London and its surrounding areas ensues.
The premise had me hooked for this novel, and I found the first part of the book really interesting and enjoyable, but I found my interest waning rather quickly, and by the end started skipping whole chapters. I found the author used a lot of detail, sometimes needed and worthy, yet sometimes it seemed to be there to pump up the volume of the book. I loved the historical fiction aspect, the idea that the smoke was from people’s sin rather than the industrial revolution, yet the book was not very fast paced. I also enjoyed the fact that the author wrote the novel in varying points of views of our characters, I like to read why each character does what they do, what they are thinking, how they are feeling, etc.
Of course no story is complete without a love triangle, but it felt forced and unbelievable here. Livia falls for Charlie at the estate, but when Charlie is forced to leave the trio for a mere matter of days, Livia’s interests start to shift towards Thomas, someone she loathed through most of the novel.
Women are not highly viewed in this novel, I noticed. We have Livia with waning fancies for the two boys, a girl who was raised as an aristocrat in dresses, who seems perfectly fine slumming in slacks and living in a mine shaft. Livia’s final decision concerning the boys seemed so far fetched, not of her character, and not of the time period whatsoever. Lady Naylor seemed to be a strong female character. She was a female scientist in a time where that was exceedingly rare. Yet she too is sort of looked down on, as she is only carrying after her husband’s research, certainly nothing she could have come up with on her own, and she seems to become more manic at the end, you know how us women are emotional and weak like that.
I was really disappointed in the book. For something with such an interesting premise and starting so strong, it just seemed to…fizzle. I don’t like to skim books, to me that defeats the purpose, but seriously for a few chapters NOTHING happened! It was like watching a soap opera on TV…I came back chapters later and was still in the exact same place!! And I think in this day and age we can actually have strong female characters who aren’t fleeting or considered crazy. I know this takes place a hundred years ago and times were different then, but it’s still no excuse.