Smoke and Stone is a book I regret not buying sooner. For a good while after finishing Empires of Dust, I kind of vacillated between novels, not really able to find a comfortable home in one world or another. Then I started this. And finished it in a week.
What Fletcher's achieved here is nothing less than what he usually achieves, which is to punch me in the brain with his visceral worldbuilding. The people feel like if you turned away from the book, they might just leap out. The magic is in-depth and complex, but never over-explained. (Something I always appreciate is when an author assumes the reader is intelligent and capable.) The tension is skillfully ratcheted up until the climax comes crashing down in a crescendo of violence.
But more, Smoke and Stone is a story about people trying to do what they think is best for the people in their care. This isn't the typical nihilism of grimdark, but instead is a story about the pitfalls of desperation, and how it drives good people to step over the line into the grey. If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, Nuru and Akachi certainly have enough bricks for a turnpike.
By the end of the story, I felt something, and it was that thing I'd been missing since reading Empires of Dust. It was the sense of a curtain closing on the first act of an epic tragedy. It's rare these days to step into a novel that feels like it's sweeping you along, holding the sides of your head, and saying "look", "look at this and learn". I can't wait for the rest of the play. 1 like