Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Smoketown by Tenea D. Johnson

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):    The city of Leiodare is unlike any other in the post-climate change United State. Within its boundaries, birds are outlawed and what was once a crater in Appalachia is now a tropical, glittering metropolis where Anna Armour is waiting. An artist by passion and a factory worker by trade, Anna is a woman of special gifts. She has chosen this beautiful, traumatized city to wait for the woman she's lost, the one she believes can save her from her troubled past and uncertain future.
When one night Anna creates life out of thin air and desperation, no one is prepared for what comes next-not Lucine, a smooth talking soothsayer with plans for the city; Lucine's brother Eugenio who has designs of his own; Seife, a star performer in the Leiodaran cosmos; or Rory, a forefather of the city who's lived through outbreak, heartbreak, and scandal. Told through their interlocking stories, Smoketown delves into the invisible connections that rival magic, and the cost of redemption.

And here's what I thought:  This book reminded me a lot of what I like about many of China Mieville's books: a fascinating setting that is both intriguing and disturbing, and a story that completely captures me.   As you can see from the above summary, there are multiple characters in this story who encounter each other, and whose stories are intertwined and woven into each other, as well.  Anna is, I feel, the real main character in the story -- we get to know her as the story progresses, and she is the focus of much of the book.  What I really liked about this story, other than the setting (which is a character wholly unto itself; it is that alive), is that Anna's story is revealed bit by bit, sometimes without much of an explanation.  She is not an open book, but rather, like an intricate puzzle box; you have to carefully go bit by bit to get to the center of her.   I loved that.

This book is also beautifully written.  The author's prose is descriptive without being overwrought, and most of the time, I had a very clear picture in my head of a character, or a setting, or what was happening to someone.  I loved how it seemed the author would set something up, and then reveal it through her words -- does that make sense?   It's almost like watching some detailed film where details are a bit smudgy, and then start to come into focus.   Sometimes, I felt like what I was reading was crafted, not just written --- the words chosen as if the author were writing a poem.   Here's an example (p. 14): "Already the night looked lighter, as if dawn were a short nap away and here she sat, a crime on her lap and unleashed power in her hands."
Maybe it's just me.  But I really, really liked this book.  Reading it made me feel quiet and thoughtful, and it made me want to read more from this author.  

First sentences:  Anna Armour had had her fair share of failed resurrections.  There had been the lichen when she was three and the dragonfly at six - the sad twisted platypus that her mother took away before it ruined her tenth birthday.  Since the day of her mother's death when Anna was fourteen, she hadn't brought anything to life.

Thoughts on the cover:  I really like this cover -- it's simple, but it captures the feel of the story perfectly.


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