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Book review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

This is Romeo and Juliet like you’ve never seen them before. 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 magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to protect her clan and punish their enemies—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

With her gorgeous, lyrical prose, smart world-building and fascinating morally-grey characters, Rosamund Hodge has become one of the few authors I will read literally anything from.  When Bright Smoke, Cold Fire was announced, it automatically became one of my most anticipated new releases of 2016, and as always, Hodge doesn’t disappoint.

While Bright Smoke, Cold Fire revolves around the fallout from Romeo and Juliet’s illicit love affair, the two lovers are reduced to side-characters in Hodge’s retelling.  Instead, the reader follows Paris and Runajo (Rosaline), who find themselves allied to Romeo and Juliet respectively after a spell accidentally binds them together.  As they delve into the city’s secrets, both pairs find themselves caught up in secret plots, ancient rivalries and a whole lot of necromancy.

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire is such an original and complex story that I could gush for ages about what makes it so brilliant - the setting, the world-building, the writing - but I want to focus on the characters, because Paris and Runajo are what really made this book special for me.  Both protagonists are wonderfully true-to-life characters, with realistic fears, hopes and faults.  Paris’ gradual friendship with Romeo, and Runajo’s grudging alliance with Juliet, were exactly the kind of slow-burning relationships I love.

If I have one criticism, it’s that as the first book in a two-part series, Bright Smoke, Cold Fire feels incomplete.  Despite its length, I felt like I’d read half a book, and the ending - while shocking and brilliantly executed - wasn’t satisfying.  If you’re someone who likes each book in a series to wrap things up neatly, you’ll be disappointed.

Still, this was a near-perfect novel, and I have no doubt that the second act will be worth the wait.  If you like complex high fantasy and retellings of classic stories, I highly recommend all of Rosamund Hodge’s works.

Many thanks to Balzer + Bray for providing a copy of Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. Bright Smoke, Cold Fire will  be released on September 27th.

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rating: 4 stars | ★★★★✰
Review cross-posted to Goodreads

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