This book had everything I never knew I wanted. It’s action-packed and humorous, yet not afraid to slow down and be reflective every once in a while. Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby is (what I’d call) an Urban Science Fantasy novel that does practically everything right. 5 stars from me.
- Author: Sean Grigsby
- Publisher: Angry Robot Books
- Published Date: 2018
We’re in the 22nd century, so it’s the future but not that far ahead. Some things are still the same. There are police, firefighters, professional sports players, dragons, teachers, etc. You know, things we wouldn’t find out of place today. Oh, I’m sorry; did I say dragons? Well…I guess not everything is the same.
Cole Brannigan is a firefighter. After working nearly 30 years on the job, he has put in his notice to retire. Unfortunately, things change whenever a response call goes bad. Turns out the fire was caused by a dragon. The smoke eaters deal with dragons, not the firefighters. When Brannigan discovers that he has the rare power to breathe dragon smoke, however, his plans of retirement are whisked out the window as he is enlisted in the elite smoke eaters. And to top it all off, someone has been plotting to overthrow the city’s government. It’s the smoke eaters’ duty to fight off the dragons. Not the wraiths, though; no one’s sure what to do about them.
My favorite part about the world-building is that it feels natural. It takes place throughout the novel, so we aren’t stuck spending an awkward interlude getting a bunch of information thrown at us. Ever since the dragons appeared, things are hectic. Nearly everywhere is covered in ash. Places that are rebuilt after a dragon attacks are much more expensive due to “dragon-proofing” the buildings/homes. The US still technically exists, but each state is largely on their own. Meanwhile, Canada has closed its doors and isn’t letting out any of their secrets on how they’re dealing with the dragons. Thank goodness for hover cars because the actual roads are in bad condition as well.
I liked how, despite the terrors of the dragons and the state of the world, the people still tried to live their lives like normal. The characters really helped to make this world feel relatable. (But where can I get my own robot dog now, please?) The friendships, camaraderie, and the humor make this book special.
What’s super interesting about the dragons is that we’re shown they come in many different breeds. The dragons they have to fight off in Germany (for example) might be different than the ones in the US. Heck, even the smoke eaters in Nevada might be fighting a different breed than in North Carolina. Oh, and dragons don’t fly. They travel deep, deep underground. And whenever they appear, you can bet a wraith is sure to come next. The wraiths are a complete mystery, but there are some speculations on how they arose. They might seem like an odd addition to this world, but the book handles their inclusion exceptionally well.
characters & tone
The characters and tone make this story. Without Cole Brannigan’s wit and sarcastic remarks that cause severe eye-rolling for others, this book would have been missing something. He is near 60 and bad ass. He’s a loyal friend with a heart of gold. Something I appreciated about him is that he didn’t go into the smoke eaters with the attitude that he knew everything and was going to be the big change they needed. No. He went in with the attitude of, “I’m a rookie again, and I’m here to learn.”
The book is filled with incredibly well-written characters: major and minor. Everyone was memorable and real. The cast was diverse in terms of race and gender. From Sherry, to Naveena, to Sergeant Puck…this book is filled with women who are strong and bad-ass in different ways.
The strength of the characters help propel this book from a good read to a great read. They add to the world with their humor, charm, and charisma. Sure, they have their flaws, but what person is without fault?
The tone of the book is largely in thanks to the characters, which is why I’m including it in the same section. As mentioned earlier, the book is humorous but knows when to take it down a notch. This is a book where the phrase, “You’ll laugh, and you’ll cry,” is a very real possibility.
Should you read this book? Yes. It’s fantasy like I haven’t seen done in a while. It’s different and unique but still relatable in many ways. The author, Sean Grigsby, pulls from his background as a firefighter to really enhance the novel. My only very minor nitpick is that sometimes I felt there could’ve been a bit better transitions between chapters. Still, this is a book I think I’ll remember for a long time.
[I received an eARC of Smoke Eaters from Angry Robot Books via NetGalley. The book is set to release in March, 2018.]