Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Posted August 15, 2019 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge


Published by Balzer + Bray on September 27, 2016
Series: Bright Smoke Cold Fire #1
Genres: Fantasy, Ghosts, Paranormal, Retellings, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 437 pages Source: ThriftBooks

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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. . . .

I wanted so so much to like Bright Smoke, Cold Fire with the same fiery passion as I liked Crimson Bound.  Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out for me.

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire has the feeling of a book that wants to do too many things.  There are two POVs in this one – Runajo and Paris, and both are trying to accomplish the same thing – save the city.  In one POV, we learn about the inside of the religious order of the city – in the other, the reader experiences the correct underground.  Either view could have been interesting enough in itself, but they cancel each other out.  Because the reader is looking at two different worlds inside an already large and complicated world, depth and worldbuilding are sacrificed to pacing to move the plot along.

One of the things that bothered me the most was that when the action started to build, whole scenes got cut.  There’s a scene in the latter half of the book that builds up to a duel… and the duel is completely skipped.  Like, what?  Those sword-fighting scenes are some of my favorites in fantasy and I felt completely cheated when the story skipped over the action sequences.  There’s a lot of acceptance required in some of the character development as well.  Vai, in particular is awkwardly spun out to fit between some of the largest reveals in the book.

But the thing is, it’s not a total failure.  Beneath all the stumbling is still the wonderful voice that I’ve come to love from Rosamund Hodge.  Bright Smoke, Cold Fire has a rushed feeling.  I think the author may have over extended herself in creating a second POV, and it seems like she did it because she wanted to keep true to Romeo and Juliet.

As a retelling, I can see where she would want to do honor to the original play.  But Romeo and Juliet has become sort of a romantic trope – all a retelling really requires is forbidden love between warring factions and tragic death.  An unhappy ending.  Instead, there’s the two POVs which parallel the play.  There’s the characters names kept in bits and pieces that don’t seem to work alongside her worldbuilding.  Rosamund Hodge has done retellings before – Cruel Beauty is Beauty and the Beast and Crimson Bound is sort of a loose Little Red Riding Hood retelling.  She did them both majestically.  I’m not sure why that magic didn’t translate over to this retelling, but it seems like she was trying too hard.  Take, for example, The Juliet.  The Juliet is an assassin.  The name makes no sense except as a nod to the play – she’s an enslaved assassin and constant references to has as The Juliet broke the flow, in my opinion.  There are little examples like that throughout the retelling where things didn’t mesh together.  I’m not sure if it’s a failure in storytelling or a failure in editing… but it’s something.

Beneath the surface, this worldbuilding is really cool.  I loved Runajo’s storyline.  The Cloister and the conversation about the Sacred Library and the walls to stop the Ruining… I was entranced by it all.  I want to read that book.  I think with one POV, this story would have worked a bit better and for me, I want that perspective.  There’s fog and blood magic and deceptive characters and a lot of chillin conversation about death and it was cool.  Also, did I mention this is a necromancer book?  I am here for all the necromancer books – just keep sending them my way.

I think I’m mostly disappointed in Bright Smoke, Cold Flame because it didn’t live up to my expectations.  The play and the story didn’t seem to go together very well.  The world was fascinating, but we didn’t get to see enough of it because the characters were in the way.  I read the book quickly and I’m just curious enough about the ending that I would read the sequel, but I feel very strongly that this book could’ve beans much more.

The Breakdown
Personal Enjoyment
Overall: four-stars

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire stays on the shelf.

One of my less conventional choices in books to keep, I find that I’d like to revisit Bright Smoke, Cold Fire at some point.  Readathons bit a bit of added stress on the act of finishing books, and I can’t help to wonder if I may have liked it better if I was reading it at a more leisurely pace.  But that aside, I genuinely enjoyed Runajo’s storyline and I want to know what happens to the wall, so it wasn’t a total waste.  I may rethink this in later retellings, but for now this is one I want to keep.


Do you like the story of Romeo and Juliet?  I don’t mind it, but it’s not one of my favorites.  But you guys know me – I’m not a romantic!  Let me know what you think in the comments!

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2 responses to “Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

  1. I nearly picked this up at YALC this year, until someone reminded me it was a Romeo and Juliet retelling. I really do not like that play and I knew I wasn’t going to like this book if I read it either. There’s just something about it that doesn’t gel with me.

    • Amber

      Yeah, it hangs a little *too* much on the Romeo and Juliet retelling aspect and the book feels really torn between wanting to be that, and wanting to be a really cool fantasy about necromancy and the end of the world. I wish she had moved away from the retelling the way she has with her previous works – letting them inspire rather than integrate them. Oh well!