Smoke is set in an alternate universe of England, about a hundred years ago. In this universe, sins and lies can be detected by the Smoke that comes pouring out of your body. The lower classes and the poor are saturated in sin and soot, while the aristocrats and those who rule do not Smoke, proving their nobility. Thomas and Charlie are young men sent to live in a boarding school where the children of the wealthy are taught to control the Smoke. But they soon find out that everything they have learned is a lie.
The first half of this book was intriguing. A Victorian-era England where people Smoked when they lied or sinned? And the wealthy do not Smoke? How does this happen? I read eagerly to find out about this unique phenomenon.
However, about halfway through, the plot turns. Thomas and Charlie leave the boarding school and the story veers off into talk of science and scientific experiments that don’t really make sense. I felt that the pace of the book slowed downed considerably, which made it difficult to keep my attention. There’s an unnecessary (at least to me) love triangle. Additionally, there is a group of people hoping to expose some aspect about the Smoke but I never could figure out exactly what it was they wanted to expose. In fact, I’m not even sure what happened in the last third of the novel.
There was a lot I didn’t understand and I was left with many unanswered questions.
I did however, really enjoy the beginning and the setting of the boarding school. It was interesting and funny and filled with typical boarding school antics and teachers. I only wish more of the novel took place in that setting.