Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge


Goodreads: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
Series: Untitled #1
Source: Library
Published: September 2016

Official Summary

Sabriel meets Romeo and Juliet in this stunning and atmospheric novel—the first in a duology—from the author of Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound.

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . .


I loved Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound, but I have mixed feelings about Bright Smoke, Cold Fire.  While I think the novel may have some of the best world building Hodge has done yet, I was not always invested in the characters and felt as if the plot had not really progressed after 430 pages.  I also was somewhat surprised this book has practically no romance, and the focus is really on the action and the world dealing with necromancy and general impending death.

My one complaint about Hodge’s previous two novels was probably that her world building always felt hazy to me; there was always something I couldn’t quite grasp or envision about it, and it frustrated me.  So I was extremely pleased with how concrete the world building in Bright Smoke, Cold Beauty is. Hodge takes a bit of time laying it all out, partially because there are so many many cultures living together in one city, and Hodge has to do the work of explaining all their customs, religious beliefs, feuds with each other, etc.  However, once the information comes through to the reader, it’s clear that the world is gloriously complex, but that Hodge has put thought into the details.  I loved it.

I wish I loved the characters as much.  Things are a little tricky because the book is supposed to be Romeo and Juliet inspired, but mostly I see that in the fact that the two main characters have families who dislike each others, and there are some other somewhat minor allusions. I think the book could have been written without the Shakespeare influence. However, Hodge does go really hard on portraying Romeo as a love-struck fool, which is accurate, but fairly annoying.  The other characters can’t even take him seriously.  On the other hand, Juliet seems uncharacteristically angry all the time, while the girl who fills the Rosaline role is frequently a jerk, if an admirably determined one.  I don’t always need characters to be “likable,” but it was often hard to find someone to root for here.

The plot is interesting, and I enjoyed the book while I was reading it. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I am mostly frustrated that the overall plot didn’t seem to head anywhere.  After 400 pages, I felt as if things had progressed very little.  There was a moment I might have labelled a climax, but it was completely glossed over, and then the story kind of just stopped. I understand there’s supposed to be a sequel, but I personally like to feel as if I’ve read a full book, not half of one.  After going through so much effort of reading to get so little, I’m not sure I want to read the sequel.

I like Hodge’s work, and I love the touches of medieval (or, in this case, early modern) literature that goes into her writing. But I struggled with this one a bit.  I’m interested in what she does much; I’m not really interested in what Romeo and Juliet do next.

3 stars Briana

Discussion Post: Shakespeare for Children and Teens?

Shakespeare 2

Recently I have been looking into Shakespeare adaptations for youth, anything from picture books to young adult novels, and it seemed to me that a disproportionate amount of these adaptations are of the same plays: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  There are outliers, of course; there are at least a few Macbeth adaptations, at least one of The Tempest.  Histories, however, are definitely missing representation, as well as plays like The Merchant of Venice and Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Why is this?

In general, I think it has something to do with people perceiving particular plays as more relevant to teens than others.  They then teach those plays more often in high schools.  And then there’s an educational market for adaptations of those plays that makes them easier to sell than adaptations of other plays.

But is Romeo and Juliet actually more relevant to teens than, say, King Leer?  Below, I try to tease out why some people might think so.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and JulietThis is the ultimate “teen” Shakespeare play.  The protagonists are very clearly marked as teens, and they deal with problems that many of today’s youth can potentially relate to: differences of opinion with their parents, feeling stifled by family expectations, engaging in a forbidden love.  Sure, the shotgun wedding and suicides are a bit over the top, but this is drama; stuff happens.  The important part is that some of the themes are relatable; not all of them need to be.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night's DreamThis has a lot in common with Romeo and Juliet.  The play opens with a daughter disagreeing with her father over what man she should marry and subsequently denying his authority over her.  From there, it’s a mad mess of romance—both returned and unrequited.  If the argument is that teens can relate to love stories and to fights with parents, this play provides everything an educator could ask for to keep students engaged.  Even better, it doesn’t have the awkward suicide ending.


hamletOphelia aside, this one stands out for its distinct lack of romance.  However, it seems to deal with the same questioning of parental authority figures that Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream do.  And while Hamlet’s exact age is often debated, a lot readers feel he at least gives off the vibe of being an angst-ridden teen.  The idea that Hamlet’s identity is uncertain, something he needs to sharpen and define, may also add to the sense that teens can particularly relate to him.

So what happens when other Shakespeare plays are adapted for teens?

Some adaptations, like Lady Macbeth’s Daughter, essentially construct a companion story, where teens and teen concerns are the focus—even if they never were in the original play.  Other adaptations try to rewrite the story in the modern age with youth protagonists, but this approach risks losing the themes and “feel” of the original play almost entirely.  For an example, check out Krysta’s disappointed review of Exposure, which changed Macbeth from a murderous soldier trying to usurp a country into a modern-day teen running for prom king. Somehow, the stakes just don’t seem as high in that scenario, and the focus on the danger of hubris starts fading away.  Can someone write a believable teen Macbeth?  Possibly, but it makes sense that authors have had more success with teen Hamlets and Juliets.

What do you think?  What Shakespeare plays did you read in high school?  Do you think some plays are easier to adapt for teens and children than others?