Smoke by Dan Vyleta
It’s rare to find a fictional environment as mesmerizing and evocative as the one Dan Vyelta creates in his novel Smoke. This exquisitely constructed story blurs the lines between fantasy and historical fiction with a whole cast of rich and endearing--though not always sympathetic--characters.
The novel takes place in a quasi-familiar Victorian Age where the upper and lower classes are starkly divided by class. Those at the top reap the benefits of a sophisticated conspiracy to maintain the status quo while members of the lower classes perform the thankless and dirty jobs required to keep their betters in top shape.
What makes the novel a fantasy is Vyleta’s conception of a tangible byproduct of sin – smoke. Human bodies produce smoke (fiercely, uncontrollable, subtly, even tenderly at times) in response to sin in its many forms. Only saints (seen in paintings) and monsters (savages who live in the most remote places on earth) emit no smoke.
Young English gentlemen are educated on the art of controlling their smoke. Results of the teachings vary. The laundry is examined daily for telltale stains of smoke and punishments are delivered accordingly.
I’m fascinated by the premise of Smoke. What does smoke represent? Does it have a purpose? Is it man-made? Is it, as the pious and proper young Lady Livia Naylor believes, heaven sent? Might it be curable? Should it be cured? What does it symbolize? Is the entire novel a metaphor?
An orphan with a tragic history finds himself asking some of the same questions when he notices that the most vicious bully at school never appears to smoke. Adventure, mystery, danger and romance abound in this incredible coming-of-age story.