Friday, July 23, 2021

Review: HALL OF SMOKE by H. M. Long


Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Are you tired of reading about female protagonists who tell you they’re strong assassins but don’t actually do anything to prove it? Then you should check out Hall of Smoke! Hessa doesn’t have to spend the whole book pretending to be badass when she shows us from the very first chapter that she is: she will murder, maim, and disembowel those who get in her way. She’s an Eangi, a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, and she has the ability to kill her enemies with a scream. This book is fierce and brutal, but in the best way. 

Hessa was banished for disobeying her goddess, and while she is alone in the mountains seeking forgiveness, raiders come and slaughter her entire village, killing nearly everyone she knows and loves.

Hessa then goes on a quest to track down and kill a certain traveler that her goddess had commanded her to kill, and the book is mostly a story of Hessa’s journey to find this traveler. There is also commentary on who to trust, including if you should trust your own gods, and what happens when gods die.

I did expect to see more “scream magic,” or Eangi Fire as it’s really called, but it wasn’t present in the book as much as I expected. We see it heavy in the first few chapters, and I think that set an unrealistic expectation for the book where I expected the whole novel to be like that, but it wasn’t. Hessa mentions her Fire a lot but doesn’t actually use it that much, and I think part of that is intentional as the god the Fire is tied to is missing for much of the novel. 

One thing I noticed is that there were some flashback scenes, specifically at the beginning, and I had a hard time telling when this was occurring until after the fact. I would be reading and then I’d be like, “when did she get here?” and then later on I’d realize it was a flashback. Those scenes could have been signaled better, in my opinion, to be less confusing to the reader.

Also, I couldn’t tell some of the gods apart. Many of them make on-page appearances and talk with Hessa and other characters, but I struggled at times to distinguish one from another and remember which gods belonged to which culture and what they were gods of. I don’t tend to like books about fantasy gods—I don’t know why, but I always struggle with the concept of what defines a god and why the gods are so fallible, and I feel like that mindset was present here too. There are multiple generations of gods, gods killing gods, gods overpowering other gods, and it all really made me wonder what exactly is a god and how did they get that way. That’s a discussion for another day though.

I also don’t tend to like books based on mythology, but I did like here that the mythos was fake, like it was all invented for this novel. We have inspiration from the Vikings, but the names of the gods are all new and different, so you don’t have to know anything about Norse mythology before starting the book. I really appreciated that because I am super ignorant when it comes to any type of mythology. 

Hall of Smoke had a really strong start, but my enjoyment slowly petered off throughout the novel. I have found through much trial and disappointment that books centered around gods or mythology unfortunately just aren’t my thing. Hessa is a great protagonist, the world-building is nice, the plot is interesting, but the gods and myths part just wasn’t holding my attention, due to no fault of the author or book—that’s just me. Because I was rather emotionally detached from the story, I didn’t feel the full weight of the consequences at the end of the book. I wanted to love this book so much more than I actually did. 

Hall of Smoke was still decent though. I don’t think I’ve read any other books about a lone-wolf warrior priestess, so that aspect really had me interested. This book features gods both good and bad, tribal clans, ancient rune magic, and a fierce female protagonist on a journey of revenge and redemption. This is also a clean book with no bad language or explicit scenes, and the battle scenes weren’t overly gory, which I appreciated. I love that this is a standalone fantasy (because there aren’t enough standalone fantasies out there), but I am also planning to read the standalone companion novel Temple of No God that comes out next year. H. M. Long has a gift for writing and I’m excited to see what stories she comes up with in the future. 

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