Book reviews / Fantasy

Book review: Other Words for Smoke

What a beautiful book. What a terrifying and beautiful book.

Usually I am delighted and besotted by a story, but I think this story is like being caught in a dizzying and compelling spell that won’t let you go.

Gosh, it’s even difficult to describe the plot because it feels like words and explanation can’t do justice to how deeply weird, unsettling and lovely it is all at once. And it definitely feels like a secret that you should discover yourself.

So, there’s a house. It’s a strange house. It’s inhabited by worldly people and unworldly things. One summer, twin brother and sister (Rossa and Mae) arrive to spend time with one of the worldly/unworldly characters, their Great Aunt Rita. Living with Rita is Bevan (a 17 year old girl) and their cat Bobby. Something happens. But even with the weirdness that occurs that summer, they return three summers later because it’s better than staying at home with fractured parents.

That sounds so normal but things are not normal and I don’t want to tell you because it’s really a book that you should experience. It’s not enough to explain what Bevan does that is all so unsettling because it’s the way it is told that makes you understand the horror/joy that she experiences all at once and somehow you sympathise with her.

What was amazing about the novel is how it made magic seem so deeply attractive and wonderful but awful and unworldly at the same time. Magic is a sacrifice sometimes made willingly, sometimes unwillingly, it’s wonderful and terrible. I have never read such a book that felt more like a series of feelings than words.

The characters are wonderful, they are all so real and lovingly crafted. Of course, being me, loved that so many of them are women. But their relationships and motivations are complicated and multi-layered.

But the language of the book, the way the words were crafted was magic in itself. They compelled you to carry on way passed your bedtime, somehow allowing you to experience the full horror of the situation but somehow allowing you to retain deep sympathy with the characters. You want them all to win even when their interests all compete with one another.

I loved this book. It’s one of the books that I am going to tell everyone to read this year. Go buy it. Go read it when you feel the most magical.

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