The opening moves of a deadly game have begun. Jess Brightwell has put himself in direct peril, with only his wits and skill to aid him in a game of cat and mouse with the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. With the world catching fire, and words printed on paper the spark that lights rebellion, it falls to smugglers, thieves, and scholars to save a library thousands of years in the making…if they can stay alive long enough to outwit their enemies.
Warnings: massacre, physical and gun violence, PTSD from torture, character is drugged and sedated, self-harm, discussion of suicide
Smoke and Iron begins from the aftermath of Jess letting his father’s trap close on them, so they all are separated – and this means the series takes a different approach and makes it multi-PoV instead of a single one from Jess (with Ephemera entries filling in the blanks). For most of the book, the main PoVs rotate between Jess, Khalila, Wolfe and Morgan, while in the last part (it has 14) we get to see from Thomas’, Santi’s and Glain’s eyes as well. Jess is under the Artifex’s custody, trying to figure out a way to stall while he gathers info, and also to give time to Morgan, who is in the Iron Tower, overthrow the Obscurist Magnus. Wolfe has been confined the cells in Alexandria, along with Khalila’s family, with no idea of Jess’ plan but assuming there is some plan in place. The others are on Anit’s ship, being swiftly carried on the way to Alexandria. And because there are so many moving pieces in this plan, the book is quite expansive in its plot, introducing new threads to a central plot that is shifting slightly from just defeating the Archivist.
The multiple Pov do slow down the pace a bit, but also allows for so much more to be seen. I loved Khalila’s PoV the most, because you can see her conviction strengthen as the book moves along – only a Scholar, she is playing the political game, talking to allies, but also aware that some of their plans will involve violence and that she will have to make her peace with it. Morgan’s PoV gives us more insight into the alchemy of the Obscurist and the workings of the Iron Tower, and introduces us to Eskander, Wolfe’s father, and Annis, Keria’s friend; the latter is a delight, by the way! Wolfe’s is painful to read through, because being in the cells calls back his memories of torture, and even hallucinations. The point where they all converge is also kind of where the earlier plan starts to crack, but also, who doesn’t love a good reunion. This family has had to rely on so many shaky allies, you can almost expect betrayal at every turn and that hold so much of the suspense in this book.
On the plot level, it makes for a good amalgamation of earlier book events into this: while Jess and co are trying to topple the most powerful man in Alexandria, the geopolitical situation is such that major kingdoms around the world had allied themselves (in the last book) which weakens his position. And with a dissatisfied High Garda, the odds are turning in the favor of Jess and his family, but just so. There’s the fact that they do need help from allies, and trusting those allies would be foolish, especially when they have Thomas’ intellect and his creations on the table. And the conclusion of the book, while a bit chaotic and rushed, still plants the seed for the next book quite well.
Is it diverse? Asian Muslim protagonist, gay MoC protagonist, PTSD rep, possibly secondary aromantic character
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Berkley, via Netgalley.
Previous books in the Great Library series