Review: “The Smoke Thieves” (The Smoke Thieves #1) by Sally Green

Quick review for a progressive fantasy read. I think this is another case where I like the premise and characterization, but feel that the execution was all over the place. Sally Green’s follow-up to the “Half Bad” trilogy comes in the namesake for her new series “The Smoke Thieves”. We follow a cast of characters whose fates are intertwined and collide in the mix of an epic war. A princess (Catherine) set to marry a man she’s never met but finds herself a pawn in a brutal scheme; the knight (Ambrose) who loves her from afar but is caught in an unfair tangle of power struggles. Two thieves – one a pervasive liar with a hefty secret under his belt (Edoyn), the other just trying to stay alive while gathering a substance of illegal but palpable value (Tash).

This book owes much to the ilk of “Game of Thrones” (and I would argue that two of the scenes in here mirror far too closely that source for my personal comfort – I definitely had vibes of the opening bloody encounter from the aforementioned series), but honestly doesn’t juggle the hats of the characters here in a balanced, intriguing way. The worldbuilding really isn’t that fleshed out, and there’s a telltale distance between the characters and their perils that made the narrative hard for me to connect to. I figure this is something that Sally Green has in her particular writing style since I’ve seen this issue in the “Half Bad” trilogy as well. The pacing is too sluggish with large lulls in the story that made it hard to wade through in points. I did think after getting through an overly long middle, the story started picking up its pace. I think the character I identified with the most was Catherine – especially seeing her struggle from being a princess forced into a relationship and lamenting her lack of choice to recognizing herself as a pawn by the people around her and wanting something more/being able to take her own fate in her hands to get things done.

Was it worth the slow burn? Ehhh, if you’re really into fantasy series – I don’t think most would have a problem with it, but it doesn’t really have the distinctive spark to make you want to dive in and savor the characters experiences or return to the world because much of what its built on isn’t fleshed out – it’s very formulaic and predictable for tropes. The character personalities are interesting though, and if you can get past points of the story dragging its heels, the connections make sense and the action ramps up considerably, but it’s more than 2/3rds into the novel. I think if the execution of this novel hadn’t been so formulaic, it could’ve been a strong fantasy title to start. I might end up reading the follow-up to this when it comes out, but as much as I love fantasy/sci-fi, this left me wanting more, so it’s probably not going to be on the “must buy” list.

Overall score: 2.5/5 stars.

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