Review originally posted on Geek Girl Authority
Smoke & Summons
By Charlie N. Holmberg
Hardcover, 319 pages
2019, 47 North
Thank you to 47 North (via Geek Girl!) for sending me this book for free in exchange for my honest review.
Sandis is a vessel – an ancient and powerful spirit can be summoned through her, transforming and using her body to wreak the havoc demanded by its master. Sandis can host more powerful beings than her fellow vessels and she finds she can do something else the others can’t – retain some memories and feelings from when she’s possessed. When she finds an opportunity to escape, she takes it and runs into a clever thief with a magical object that grants limited immortality. In over their heads, the two must learn to trust each other if they hope to escape their lives and save the ones they love.
I’ve read one of Holmberg’s books before, The Paper Magician, and it was a huge letdown for me. The YA genre and I don’t always get along, but I wanted to give this a shot, because I was intrigued by the premise.
I’m still intrigued by the premise, but I feel the book was slow to deliver on plot and when it did deliver, we didn’t get much.
In the beginning, we learn about Sandis’s life as a vessel (and we also hear about her very short hair twice within the first 20 pages, because this is YA after all!) She was kidnapped by slavers at a young age and sold to her master, Kazen, to take on the painful role of being a vessel. Not just anyone can be a vessel – there are requirements a person must meet, virginity and a sound body and mind among them. Sandis is eighteen (and pretty) and fairly strong, I guess, because she can host up to a level 7 spirit (I’m unsure how many levels there are or how one categorizes a spiritual being into these power levels, but I guess that’s not supposed to be important because it’s never addressed.)
Being a vessel is painful because the spirit takes over and transforms your body into whatever creature it is and Kazen uses his vessels to intimidate and exterminate his enemies. Once the possession is over, the vessel is left weakened and is unconscious for a day, with no memory of what they’ve done. This is all pretty interesting to me, but I felt that just as I understood the mechanics of vessels and wanted to know more about the world and these crazy spirits, the story shifts to following Sandis around the city. This is a seemingly endless loop of her running from Kazen and his thugs, escaping their clutches, putting herself back in danger, running, escaping, put herself back in danger, running, escaping…well you get the point.
In all, if you take out the running around, not much happens in this book. It’s very much a set-up for a series and I wish there’d been more meat and less of Sandis and her thief-buddy, Rone, running around and oogling each other. Typical to the genre, they’re both good looking, they get to see each other in various states of undress (Sandis ends up naked several times – and this makes sense given the situations, but it’s still an opportunity for Rone to appreciate her goods), and we are never allowed to forget how pale Sandis is. Really would have loved for skin tone to be left to the reader to decide because I don’t need all my YA heroines to be pasty-white, thanks.
Anyway, Sandis is pretty bland(is) and while I wanted to know more about her bond/connection with her spirit, Ireth (a bad-ass firehorse that we don’t get to see enough of), I didn’t understand why she had a bond to begin with. She is special (because she’s a YA heroine) so she can sometimes feel Ireth’s presence in her mind when he’s not summoned and she can occasionally remember the things she’s done while possessed (mostly fiery murder). But she thinks to herself at one point that Ireth really cares for her and I wondered what made her think that. He might care in that she is his vessel and thus his only link to being summoned into the physical plane (there’s nothing to address where the spirits chill when they’re not summoned, so I’m guessing here) but he doesn’t seem to really assist her or even communicate in a way that indicates he has human-like thoughts and/or feelings for her.
Rone is the typical YA hottie rogue – clever, fast, strong, rich, and reluctant to help this totally hot girl, but does it anyway because she’s hot and really he’s very nice. Nothing about the dialogue or interactions between the two made me care for either of them or their relationship. There’s very little chemistry, aside from them both thinking the other is good looking and kind. They were pretty run-of-the-mill.
I kept reading because I wanted to know more about the world and the spirits and because I hoped that something significant would actually happen. Finally, towards the last third of the book, things pick up (though it’s still along the ‘put in danger’ and ‘escape again’ theme) and there’s a lot of action. Then the book ends, mid-conversation, and boy was I miffed.
I don’t mind cliffhangers, but I think there are varying degrees of cliffhanger endings (no, I’m not going to give you the details of the degrees, just like this book doesn’t give details of the power level of spirits) and for me, this one was just too abrupt. I was finally getting interested in the book after having my eyes glaze over due to the repetition and then it just ends! Booo. Situations like that don’t make me want to wait 1+ years for the next book.
In all, while I wouldn’t go out of my way to read the next book (meaning: if it was sent to me or happened upon it at the library I’d read it, but I wouldn’t buy it), I am still interested in learning more about the world and the spirits Holmberg created. If you typically enjoy YA fantasy and you’re a fan of chase scenes, then this is probably right up your alley, otherwise, it’s not one I’d recommend.
I really liked the design of the book though – the subtle smoke under the dust jacket and the beautiful pale purple end pages (not pictured lol)!