By now you can probably guess that if it’s got witches, cats, owls, and atmosphere, it’ll be on my TBR!
Book: Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy sent by Titan Books free of charge. All opinions my own.
Everything about this book is phenomenal, from the gorgeous cover, to the terrifying magic, to the perfect depictions of the dreadfulness of being a teenager (although most of us don’t have to cope with malevolent forces trying to consume us). Reading this book feels like living in one of those dreams that is half memory, half nightmare, and I loved it! The narrative isn’t completely linear, which I think in any other book would have thrown me, but worked so perfectly with the hazy, half-remembered hallucination feel of Other Words for Smoke.
To tell you too much about the plot would be a shame, as I think you really need to go into this unprepared and just experience it, but we follow twins Mae and Rossa across the course of two summers, as they visit their great-aunt Rita’s house. At Rita’s they find magic, horror, danger, first love, and more, all intimately connected with Rita’s ward Bevan, a mysterious talking cat named Bobby Dear, and a spirit called Sweet James that lurks largely unseen. Experiencing this along with Mae, Rossa, and Bevan is fascinating – the different narrative styles (Bevan’s chapters are in second person, while the middle of the book is made up of a series of flash-backs) shouldn’t work, but they do, and you’ll find yourself gripping the book hard as you crash through the pages to find out what’s going on. It’s completely compelling.
I honestly can’t recommend this enough to anyone that’s ever loved anything a bit witchy, or those looking for a story that embraces that intense level of feeling that teenagers have. The fact that it’s a stellar horror story is one thing, but the mastery of story and words was what grabbed me and refused to let me go. There’s recent Irish history unflinchingly tied in, and the unspeakable horror of your first crush, and witchcraft that feels lovingly and respectfully written, and terrifying owls that live in wallpaper and offer deeply unbalanced deals. It’s incredible. You should read it. You have to read it. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.