I love Rosamund Hodge's retellings, but I didn't connect with the characters in Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. This novel weaves the story of Romeo and Juliet into that of a land torn by revenants and reapers similar to Garth Nix's Sabriel. However, the story never really resolves. Death and fighting leads to only to more death. Although this fits with the story of Romeo and Juliet, it wasn't my cup of tea.
Rating: 3.75/5 stars
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire creates an interesting universe, straying from its inspiration but remaining nonetheless compelling. Prior to the Juliet’s “death,” the pacing is somewhat slow as Paris and Runajo have little to act upon despite clear objectives, but the magic system was enough to keep me interested. I have mixed feelings about this story as something derived from Romeo and Juliet; though it shares plot points, its thematic content dwells on the balance between life and death rather than on the futility of hatred. The hate between the Mahyanai and Catresou is ideological and based on power struggles whereas the tragedy in Romeo and Juliet lies in the senselessness of it all; the parallels were superficial in this respect. The exception to this would be the characters and relationships, as Hodge manages to keep Romeo and the Juliet as virtual strangers while explaining why exactly they are in love. Seeing Rosaline as Runajo and Mercutio’s offhand “king of cats” taunt become a title was great; in a way, this book pushes back the boundaries of Verona to the unexploited backstories and characters (I loved Vai, who has no equivalent character in Romeo and Juliet that I could see). The ending worked, setting up clear stakes for a sequel, though seeing the relationship between Runajo and the Juliet set back to zero was immensely frustrating. Overall, perhaps my comparison to its inspiration is a disservice to this book because it is on its own merits that it made me care.
Reviewed by Julie B. for Teens Read it First, http://teensatvpl.tumblr.com/
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