Book Review: Smoke in the Glass by Chris Humphreys

Title: Smoke in the Glass

Author: Chris Humphreys

Publisher:  Gollancz

Publication Date:  May 16, 2019

Genres: Epic Fantasy

Shelves: Transgender

Smoke in the Glass begins with a simple concept, exploring what it means to be immortal in four different cultures, each of which is socially and geographically isolated from the others. What we have here are four lands with different historical influences (including Norse and Aztec), separated from one another by unscalable mountains, impassable seas, and things like noxious marshes.

Three of these lands are connected by the story of a visitor who came to them hundreds of years ago, bestowing upon the people the gift (or curse) of immortality. That immortality is random, something for which you cannot breed or train, and the only way to know you're immortal is to die . . . and return . . . often in terror and agony. As for the fourth land? They were visited much later, and their gift was not immortality but the hope of prophecy.

Immortality is often a dangerous thing, a storytelling trope that backs the author into a corner and drains the story of any significant tension or mystery, but Chris Humphreys averts that by opening the story with the assassination of an immortal. You see, even immortals can die, so long as their heads are removed and their bodies destroyed - and in that order. Right away, we know we're reading something different, even moreso once we understand that while immortals may be respected as Kings or worshiped as Gods, they are also lonely, squabbling, tired humans.

There are three main narrative points-of-view here. The first is Ferros, a common soldier who is slain by archers in the first chapter, and who discovers that in gaining immortality he stands to lose everything that has ever mattered to him. The second is Atisha, favored of the immortal Intitepe, and mother of the sexless/intersex child who embodies the hope of prophecy . . . who must die to ensure their father's continued reign. Last is Luck, the hunchbacked immortal of the Norse-influenced tribes who is the first to suspect that somebody is hunting immortals. Of the three, I waxed and waned in my appreciation for Ferros, although the way his arc leads the book into its climax is fantastic. Atisha I was fascinated by, with her sisters in the City of Women a highlight of the story, but I suspect her role will grow in the next book. Luck, the unusual hero with the almost archetypal heroic quest, was definitely my favorite.

Smoke in the Glass is a difficult book to get into. There's a lot thrown at the reader, and it takes a while before we can begin to glimpse how and why it is all destined to come together. Once it begins to click into place, though, the story sucks you in and races along, demanding you devour just one more chapter before stopping . . . and one more after that, since it would be a shame to stop now. It was that rare book where I honestly couldn't see the end, where I had no idea how those threads would pull together, which made the climax - cliffhanger that it is, with surprise character gut-punch that it carries - all the more appreciated.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.