This review was originally published on The Rainbow Hub on April 14th, 2015. I have been given permission to reprint the review here. Enjoy!
Cinder and the Smoke by Geonn Cannon is a character piece spanning the life of one Kezia Cyr, a girl born in a prison, stolen by a supposed teacher turned prostitute at the age of five, brought into a life of prostitution at 15, who runs away and is taken in by the ringleader of a small crime gang. When a job goes wrong and the life Kezia has built up falls to pieces with her to blame, she flees, vowing revenge. Through a series of love affairs and building up a reputation as “the Smoke,” the story of Kezia’s life is incredible and brings the reader into another world they couldn’t even imagine.
Before we go any further, a word of caution: this book contains a lot of gore, violence, and mentions of sexual assault. These are major plot themes that trace throughout the book, and if any of these things disturb you, it’d be better to shy away from this one.
Moving forward, let’s go through the good of this novel. This book reads a bit like Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. The tone, the time period, the trajectory of the novel and its pacing really hold the same notes. If you have read Velvet and liked it, you will probably like this as well. The book starts off slow, and pulls the reader on twists and turns without a real lack of direction, but after the first third, the book settles into a comfortable style with a clear plot that keeps the reader invested.
What is fascinating about this book is Kezia’s personal relationships. From her relationship with Ms. Thatcher, the teacher who stole her from her mother, to Des, her first boyfriend, to Viv, her hired bodyguard turned lover turned life partner, Kezia is defined first by her identity, and then by the people she is with. The characters are defined and distinct enough to keep apart, but it is Kezia who, in all the cloaks and shadows and aliases, ends up with a personality that isn’t immediately definable. She is her identities, but not herself. This both works in favor of and against the book. Kezia is so unlikable for the first third of the book that it is a little hard to get through, but once one has read through this first part of the book, she becomes not only more sympathetic, but more interesting.
One of the real downfalls of the book is the character of “Cinder,” Agent Shelby Button. The character is only introduced at the halfway point, and then disappears again shortly after. While her role in the novel isn’t small, it’s disconcerting that she gets equal billing to “the Smoke,” and when it is revealed what relation the two women has, it is both surprising and a tad anti-climactic, in my opinion.
Additionally, this book is based in mid-19th century America, and while view on sexuality where by no means enlightened, it was incredibly hard to get through parts of the book where people call Kezia “dirty” and “immoral” for her sexuality. This is simply a note to readers to be prepared for that sort of language littered throughout the book, but not necessarily something that is good or bad about the piece.
Overall, Cinder and the Smoke is a really fascinating book that is genuinely enjoyable. I highly recommend picking it up when you get the chance.