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 heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.
Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.
Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.
Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . . .
Like Rosamund Hodge’s previous fantasy novels, Bright Smoke, Cold Fire contains a hodgepodge (ha, get it? hodgepodge? God, I hate myself) of elements, such as a Romeo And Juliet retelling mixed in with necromancy, zombies, and various forms of blood magic. It sounds AMAZING but in actuality it was one of the most flattest, dense, convoluted books I had ever read. I keep holding out for this author because of my liking for Cruel Beauty, but let’s face it. Her style just ain’t for me.
I have to say the world-building of this book is extremely intricate and thought-out, but the way it’s presented to us just sucks the joy out of everything. All this mythology, terminology, and culture is just thrown at us with no warning and the thick, heavy writing makes it difficult to understand what the fresh hell is going on. I could tell the atmosphere was supposed to be very dark, but the vibe was muddled under the denseness of the prose and convoluted plot. I really appreciate Hodge’s inclination to actually develop a layered plot and story, but their intricacy was their downfall. So much is happening with the necromancy, mystery, zombie awakenings, and blood magic rituals (I swear, every one of the characters is bleeding half the time), but trying to understand this story was like struggling to swim through mud. This was me most of the time through reading this book:
The characters, unfortunately, were not much better. Slightly better? Maybe. But not good enough to save this book. So we have Romeo, Paris, Juliet, and Runajo, who are all entangled in one great mystery together while dealing with their own issues. In the beginning, Juliet’s Guardian Tybalt, is said to have died by Romeo’s hand, and Juliet is supposed to kill him. Juliet lets him live and actually elopes with him to conduct a ritual that will make Romeo her Guardian, binding him to her permanently. Unfortunately, the ritual goes wrong, binding Romeo to Paris (Juliet’s new Guardian after Tybalt’s death) and Juliet to Runajo. There are some details in between that I left out, mostly because I don’t have the energy to inform you guys of things that confuse me myself. *shrugs*
Each character actually has a very thought-out backstory that is referenced multiple times through the book, however, they aren’t well-written enough to actually make me interested in what happens to them. Paris and Runajo’s stories are sad and intriguing, but their motivations to do what they do are simply too vague and unclear. Why is Runajo so determined to save the world? What’s in it for her? What is behind Paris’ drive to save the Juliet? Yes, I felt for them at moments and found them to be likable, but it wasn’t nearly enough to make me care for their eventual fate.
There is hardly any romance in the story besides the few flashbacks scattered throughout of Romeo and Juliet’s love affair, which comes as a blessing and a curse. Their love story is just as sappy and one-dimensional as the original, but I really think another romance between the side characters, perhaps a LGBTQ romance would have spiced this book up.
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire has a brilliant concept but a mind-numbing execution. I’d suggest passing on this one, and looking for your Shakespeare retelling + necromancy fix elsewhere.
Rating: 2 stars