I read the description of this book somewhere and immediately requested it from the library – a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet in a dying world with necromancers? SIGN ME UP. And it did not disappoint!
Hodge has written a few other books – Cruel Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and Crimson Bound, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. (She also has a novella that spins Cinderella.) You all know how much I like my redone Fairy Tales! Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, is a little different in that it’s a Shakespeare play, instead of a fairy tale. I recently read and reviewed Miranda and Caliban, another Shakespeare reskin, but this, I think, is much better.
The Capulets have become the Catresou, and the Montagues the Mahyanai in this dark fantasy. The Ruining has killed every human outside the city of Viyara/Verona – only stopped by the mystical walls put up by a long-dead priestess and maintained by a mysterious cult of nuns.
My favorite characters in this book – and arguably the main characters – are Runajo (Rosaline) and Paris, rather than Romeo and the Juliet. (It’s a title, not a name – her name was stripped from her as an infant when the magic was worked to make her “the Juliet.”) The original play doesn’t give either of them much time, and they are both fascinating characters in this novel – Runajo a little more than Paris, in my opinion. Runajo is a member of the Sisters of Thorns – the cult of nuns keeping the walls of Viyara up against The Ruining. When she accidentally brings the Juliet back from death, she becomes – or at least thinks she becomes – that which she and the city fear the most. A necromancer. Runajo and the Juliet both believe they will (and should) die for this crime, but still use the time they have left to try and save the city from the necromancers operating within.
Meanwhile, Paris and Romeo have found themselves bound by the magic that should have bound Romeo and Juliet, had it not gone terribly wrong. They can feel each other’s emotions, see each other’s memories, hear each other’s thoughts. This is understandably awkward for Paris as he feels Romeo’s grief for the Juliet’s supposed death, and occasionally catches flashes of more intimate moments between the two. They decide to take on the city’s necromancers in memory of the Juliet.
I liked how, similar to the play, Romeo and Juliet both operate for the entirety of the book under the assumption that the other one is dead. They both take risks and agree to things they would not have done if they didn’t each welcome death in their own way.
I also very much enjoyed a side, non-binary character who I really want to see more of!
The book ended on an upsetting cliffhanger, which is really my only problem with it. The sequel is due out this summer (Endless Water, Starless Sky) and I will definitely be picking it up.
Great book, but you may want to wait a few months so you can immediately follow it with the sequel!
From the cover of Bright Smoke, Cold Fire:
When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the city of Viyara was left untouched.
As the heirs of Viyara’s most powerful – and warring – families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life. But the magic laid on the Juliet at birth compels her to punish her clan’s enemies, and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.
Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding the 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 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 the Juliet from the mouth of death and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl, only to learn she 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 city’s walls, death is waiting.