Among the three Hodge books I’ve read thus far (Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound), Bright Smoke, Cold Fire is by far my favorite, which is interesting, given that it has the lowest rating on Goodreads by almost half a point. It’s actually the lowest rated full I’ve finished.
In essence, Bright Smoke, Cold Fire takes place in the single remaining city after a zombie apocalypse. The city is protected by a giant protective bubble powered by human sacrifice. There are a few different kinds of magic systems floating about, one dealing with magic words left over from the language of the gods, the other (powering the bubble) based on blood magic. Overall, it’s the same fascinating world building that Hodge put into both Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound, although in this case, it feels rather more fleshed out (pun intended).
Up until the last 10% or so of the book, I probably would have rated it 5 stars. It really is quite an enjoyable read. Unfortunately, in the same manner as her previous books I’ve read, Hodge doesn’t write particularly strong endings. Everything happens all at once, several plot points are resolved, a few characters die, and then… then end. I would have loved to read a book about twice as long that actually dealt with the consequences of those last few pages. Perhaps there will be a sequel (Goodreads notes that there will be a second half)?
Plotwise, we’re vaguely following the plot of Romeo and Juliet. All of the characters I remember are there. The forbidden love angle is there. Other than that… I think I last read or saw a version of Romeo and Juliet about a decade ago, so that’s enough for me. Honest, I think the story would likely have been stronger had it not been so strongly based on Romeo and Juliet.
Characterwise, I actually did like the characters, in particular Paris, Runajo, and Juliet. I didn’t care as much for Romeo, but he was fine. The idea of pairing Paris and Romeo and then Runajo and Juliet wasn’t entirely unexpected just before it happened, but was quite amusing.
Overall, if you like death/blood magic and necromancy and both don’t particularly need the romance aspects but can handle a bit of it… then you might just like Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. On the other hand, if you’re reading this because it’s billed as Romeo and Juliet meets Sabriel… Don’t.