From the publisher:
As a human vessel for an ancient spirit, Sandis lives no ordinary life. At the command of her master, she can be transformed against her will into his weapon—a raging monster summoned to do his bidding. Unlike other vessels, Sandis can host extremely powerful spirits, but hosting such creatures can be fatal. To stay alive, she must run. And in a city fueled by smoke and corruption, she finds a surprising ally.
A cunning thief for hire, Rone owns a rare device that grants him immortality for one minute every day—a unique advantage that will come in handy in Sandis’s fight for freedom. But Sandis’s master knows how powerful she is. He’s determined to get her back, and he has the manpower to find her, wherever she runs.
Now, to outwit her pursuers, Sandis must put all her trust in Rone and his immortal device. For her master has summoned more than mere men to hunt her down…
Charlie Holmberg’s newest creation, Smoke and Summons, brings us into a whole new world of a smog-filled, walled off city, filled with corruption and an all-seeing church. This is a civilization built on the bones of an ancient people that believed in magic and demons from the other plane. Not all of the magic is lost, however – people like Sandis’ master has learned to put the demons into the bodies of virginal vessels, and Rone has found an amulet that grants him one minute immortality. While nominally illegal, it does seem that the rampant corruption in the city allows for a lot more than the laws do.
The Church has characterized the demons as abominations and the vessels condemned to death, but what is they are just misunderstood otherworldly beings that possess great power but do not mean harm on their own? As she gets to know her demon Ireth more, Sandis is not so sure…
What I Liked
- The Worldbuild. Holmberg’s ability to create a whole new universe has always been the driving force of her books. The Magicians worldbuild was just as impressive. Here, she creates a claustrophobic city where the only escape is on the rooftops, in the sewers, or with a boatload of gold to get past the walls; a world where the air you breath chokes you, there are so many people that the bodies are pressed together in streets, and only the rich can get out of the grime. It is reminiscent of current-day New York City, with the old-time feeling of soupy London and edgy Venice.
- The Magic. Going hand-in-hand with the worldbuild, Holmberg has also brought us a new and interesting magical background – demons possessing vessels after being ripped from the astral plane, and ancient civilizations that harnessed the power regularly. The demons are wonderfully described, and it is crazy to picture little Sandis being transformed into the remarkable Ireth.
What Didn’t Work
- The Characters. I am much more of a worldbuild-type reader (see above), but even I could see that Rone and Sandis are not particularly strong characters on their own. The villains are also cardboard and one-dimensional, but I am hoping this is due to first book syndrome. Overall, no one is really likable, which makes it hard to read at times.
- Sandis is often given to damsel in distress tropes, which is pretty ridiculous given her overwhelming powers with Ireth. She is used by everyone and remains naive, and is not given much agency. My favorite scene is one where she gets to fool Rone, and it is short-lived.
- Rone is weak also, being a typical male antihero that is torn between loyalties and “inexplicably” drawn to the heroine, who is of course ravishingly beautiful. He relies on a device for his “job” and does not show much growth throughout the book.
- The Pacing. Smoke and Summons suffers in that every other scene is Rone and Sandis running away from someone or something, to find themselves into another bad situation filled with action, after a brief respite finding themselves running again. It is stop and go, and the running gets old really quick. I can’t help but feel that Holmberg could have said so much more in the pages of this book, but lost steam in places.
Smoke and Summons brings you into a wonderfully dark new world that is begging to be explored. The characters are lacking, but I am still cautiously hopeful that they will blossom in the next couple of books, which seemed to happen in the Magicians series. Don’t discount it! 3 waves out of five, pick up your copy here!