'The Smoke Thieves' had me thoroughly captivated as soon as I started to read it, and I can honestly say I didn't want to be interrupted at all once I fell into this brilliant medieval fantasy that author Sally Green has created. Woven around five main characters, from different walks of life, a story deepens to reveal a war between different kingdoms, an impending royal marriage, forbidden love, long-held family secrets, and the real reason why demon smoke is so sought-after.
The main characters are all wonderfully fleshed out in their nuances and are all given equal page time; the individual chapters follow their movements and whereabouts, whether in the war-mongering Brigant, or the more liberal Pitoria, and they embark on their own personal and physical journeys, keeping this novel action-packed. It's hard not to get attached to their individual situations as we follow each story.
We are treated to a princess, Catherine, who is ready to forge her own path, against the will of her father and brother, and she shows those around her that she will not stand for the brutal ways of her father, the King, and wants to create her own new strong identity. Ambrose is the princess' loyal guard, who has just seen his sister die, accused a traitor, and at the same time as being loyal to the crown, he is wrestling with feelings for Catherine. Then there are the demon hunters, including Tash, at only twelve years of age, she's nimble and fast on her feet (Green says she likes to include a runner in her books because she's a runner herself). The other two 'main' characters are March and Edyon: one who is a servant to Prince Thelonius, caught up in a plot to bring Edyon, a compulsive thief, back to Calidor under false pretenses, but the two of them end up falling for each other's charms.
There are whole host of other minor characters in the story and they fortify the novel with rich dialog and plot twists. Green has also created wonderful contrasts between the different kingdoms and made sure to point out language/accent differences, eye color traits, and clothing styles, and other things that add to the vivid world-building she carefully undertakes throughout the book. Simply imagining the parade leading Princess Catherine up to the castle in Pitoria is just brilliant.
*There is a lot of violence and appropriate blood and gore, as comes with war and fighting (it's medieval times, after all); sword-fighting, spears being thrown and that sort of thing, but there was no unnecessary sexual violence or triggers to warn about. Swearing happens, but that's life.
I honestly didn't want this absolutely engaging book to end, and I'm so glad that the story will continue; the end of the book saw the individual exploits of these characters entwine, and I can see the ensuing adventure becoming even more complex. I'm hooked! Demon smoke wasn't even needed.
*Thank you to Penguin Random House for my early copy of this (epic) book.