April 21, 2020

Review: Ship of Smoke and Steel

Ship of Smoke and Steel Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book of Django Wexler's I've read, and his first foray into YA, according to the author's afterward. It impressed me enough that I'll probably start looking for his other books, at least when I finish with this series.

The main thing that impressed me about this book is the worldbuilding. The magic system--nine separate Wells of magical power, each with its distinct abilities and limitations--is interesting and well thought out. In a lot of ways, this seems to be a partially rebuilt post-apocalyptic world. There are stories of the ancients, an abandoned island dubbed the Vile Rot (which also spawned the society's curse word of choice; their "rot" and "rotting" is the equivalent of our "fuck" and "fucking") which seems to engender genetic mutations (although I'm not at all sure the beings called the "angels" aren't some sort of robots or cyborgs), and the most fascinating artifact of all, an enormous, spirit-magic-powered ship called the Soliton. The more I read about this ship, with its endless levels and ecosystems and habitats, the more I thought it sounded like an ancient generation ship that was somehow brought to the planet's surface. Which probably won't turn out to be the case; this world seems to be fully on the fantasy rather than the SF side. But it's the sort of rigid, rules-based fantasy that is just my jam.

The characters, particularly our cunning, ruthless protagonist Isoka who gains a bit of a conscience over the course of the story, are also well thought out. Isoka's love interest, the princess Meroe, has a fully-fleshed-out backstory that makes the reader see why she and Isoka would fall for each other. Most of the secondary characters are memorable. The only reason I'm giving this four stars instead of five is that the first few chapters, opening in Isoka's home town of Kahnzoka, are a bit predictable and cliched. The older sibling sacrificing and doing all sorts of not-so-good things to give the innocent younger sister a sheltered, privileged upbringing is not, shall we say, a fresh plot point. But once Isoka is aboard the Soliton, the story hits its stride and doesn't let up.

To me, the worldbuilding alone makes this book worth the read. But the characters are close behind (once you get past the first few chapters). I've already bought the second book--waiting patiently on my ever-expanding TBR pile--and I will seek out the third when it arrives.

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