Deep into the forbidden territory of the Northern Plateau, Tash and her partner Gravell are hunting demons for the smoke that’s released when they die; a drug that causes euphoria, and will earn them a fortune. Meanwhile, Princess Catherine of Brigant prepares for a marriage that may forge an alliance with her country’s former enemy; the royal guard Ambrose finds himself under scrutiny when his sister is executed for treason; March, a servant, prepares to betray his prince for the sake of revenge; and Edyon, a merchant’s bastard, meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have been sent by his absent and unknown father.
The story of The Smoke Thieves centres around an old conflict between the kingdom of Brigant and the small principality of Calidor, which King Aloysius of Brigant believes should be his, but was instead left to his younger brother upon their father’s death. When the book begins, a war has already been fought – and hard-won by Calidor – but rather than raising his troops to try again, King Aloysius has made the baffling decision to instead focus on strengthening the bonds between Brigant and the neighbouring country of Pittoria – by betrothing his only daughter to Crown Prince Tzsayn. Each of the five protagonists has access to a different piece of the puzzle of what’s going on and why, and none of them will be able to put together the whole picture unless they are willing to work together.
Naturally, seeing things from five perspectives instead of one, it’s not a difficult task for us to figure out the mystery long before any of the characters do, but thankfully it’s not then just a tedious wait, as each of the protagonists also had their own individual struggles to contend with – though some of these were more compelling than others.
Of these characters, the most important – and the most likeable – is undoubtedly Catherine, Aloysius’ daughter, whose actions have the greatest influence on the events of the book. Her storyline is sadly held back by the fact that Aloysius and his son Boris (the book’s primary antagonists, whom we see mainly from Catherine’s perspective) are so comically evil that it completely breaks immersion, but is otherwise interesting. Tash is probably the most fun character, though she comes across as one of the least-connected to the main plot, and Ambrose has the opposite problem: His journey is very story-significant, but he’s incredibly bland.
Edyon is a slightly more interesting case; when he’s introduced, Green seems to imply that he’s a kleptomaniac, which plays an integral role early on in his storyline, but is completely dropped a few chapters in with no explanation. And last of all is March, who I really wanted to like, but who made so many terrible decisions – and was being so blatantly manipulated throughout the book – that I mostly just found his chapters frustrating. I do somewhat question March’s presence as a protagonist, as his perspective doesn’t really advance the story at all except to introduce Edyon, and Edyon’s storyline might have been improved by featuring March as a truly mysterious figure, rather than somebody whose goals and motives we’re already familiar with…
My favourite thing about this book, however, was the relationships. I wasn’t able to get really invested in March and Edyon’s relationship since I didn’t really like either of them that much, but I really enjoyed all Catherine’s different interactions, from her late-but-sweet friendship with Tash, to the unexpected respect between her and Prince Tzsayn, her betrothed. I also found myself liking the hints of actual romantic feelings between the latter two that were scattered about the last few chapters, as a relationship between them could prove interesting in the later books, but with even the book’s synopsis declaring Ambrose as her “true love”, it seems unlikely that Catherine will stray from that far less interesting romance.
I did like this series, and don’t think the series looks devoid of promise, but with so many exciting books out there (even just in the YA fantasy genre), I don’t know if this book has given me enough incentive to come back for a sequel. Which is a huge shame, as I really would like to see where the story will go next, and in general, I have a lot of faith in Sally Green’s storytelling ability. We’ll have to see, I suppose.