cover image Smoke


Dan Vyleta. Doubleday, $27.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-385-54016-2

Vyleta’s latest is a fiercely inventive novel set in a late Victorian Britain at once recognizable and intricately transformed. Best friends at an elite boarding school, Charlie Cooper and Thomas Argyle accept the way their world works: dark thoughts and deeds immediately cause black “Smoke” to emanate from human bodies, and the upper classes rule by virtue of being visibly more pure than the lower. Then the friends spend Christmas at the baronial home of Thomas’s uncle Baron Naylor, and everything changes. They are both attracted to his daughter, Livia, and her half-brother, Julius Spencer, Thomas’s cousin and a prefect at their school, hides a violent soul behind an irreproachable persona. Meanwhile, Lady Naylor is conducting secret research that throws everything they believe—from the texts of the Bible to the very nature of Smoke—into doubt. After investigating her laboratory and being attacked by an unknown assailant, Livia and the boys make for London, where they risk their lives for the chance to change their nation and themselves. Though its pacing falters a bit mid-book, Vyleta’s (The Crooked Maid) bold concept and compelling blend of history and fantasy offer a provocative reflection on the nature of evil, power, belief, and love. Dickensian in its imaginative scope and atmosphere, Smoke will have readers glad that a sequel is already underway. (May)