Book Review: Smokeless Fire, Samantha Young

I’m not a spoiler person, so let me please forewarn you that while I will talk about the book, I won’t give away too many details. I don’t want to give away the twists that come with reading the plot, so I’ll give you a basic rundown, but I won’t ruin it for you. Promise!

“For the last two years Ari Johnson’s life has been anything but normal, and on her 18th birthday, when her friends surprise her with a gimmick genie claiming to grant wishes, Ari discovers the truth. The tragic and strange occurrences surrounding her 16th birthday were not coincidental and her life is never going to be the same again. Ari’s real parents are not normal. They are not loving. They are not human. They are myth. They are Smokeless Fire. They are Jinn.”
Smokeless Fire, #1 in the Fire Spirits series, follows a teenage girl named Ari Johnson, an astoundingly beautiful girl who also happens to be a loner. No mother, a father who’s never home, friends who are self-absorbed, and then there’s Charlie, the sweet best friend turned asshole addict from his little brother’s death by car accident. (Ari’s pining over Charlie gets old quickly–thank god hot Jinn Guardian Jai comes in fast.) After some developments, Ari is whisked away to her true father’s palace, and I gotta say, The White King gave me the heebie-jeebies immediately. (The description of his deformed yet vicious Jinn pet truly gave me the creeps). There’s a big ol’ twist about who she really is and why she’s such a desired being, but again, I’ll save that for your own fun surprise. There’s another smaller twist involving Charlie, which I thought was just okay–it seemed like an excuse strictly to keep Charlie around for the love triangle/connection to Ari’s past. Although I do grow to like Charlie (more in the 2nd book, though), I still mostly wanted to smack the dumb, stoned expressions off his face and tell Ari to get over it already. (I think that’s due more to my own personality than anything, though. I can’t handle whiners.) Anyways, that’s where Jai comes in, a young Guardian working for his father’s security firm. There’s a whole bunch of bad blood from Jai’s family, giving him firm reason to be a hardass guardian at first. Of course, the more he grows to know Ari, the more he starts to fall in love with her, which is a huge no-no. Ari must learn how to survive in a dangerous new world while figuring out who she really is–which leads well into Book 2, Scorched Skies.
I loved the chapter when Ari finds out what she is, who her real father is, and especially why he wants her around. The White King is a scary motherfu–dude, sorry–and he means business when he says she’ll regret turning him down immediately. They’re well-written and give me plenty of setting descriptions. When he tells her he is not human, that he is Jinn, it’s such a great section in the book that it’s probably my favorite part.

The storyline is very unique–Jinn, or Fire Spirits, are far from vampires, werewolves, and faeries. There’s a long and built up history the author has designed and I’d explain it all, but it’s pretty tedious (plus I don’t have my book on me). I felt like I was being forced to read something for class, which made my eyes immediately skim for important keywords and move on to the next scene. I have trouble processing information given to me as a history book–I get why Young chose to do it this way and I don’t mind it terribly, but it’s just not how I want to read. It’s important for Ari to read it, but perhaps we could’ve gotten her Cliff Notes version.

I love the Red King–I think he’s not only the comedic relief, but also the supreme wild card of the story characters. He’s well-written, full of personality (I love that he has such a fascination with humans and their world), yet mysterious and just dangerous enough to make us not trust him, despite how Ari feels. We never really see what his true intentions are, except to serve his father Azazil. He may or may not come to care for Ari, but that doesn’t mean he won’t throw her to the wolves if it’s required of him.

And where do I even start with Jai? Okay–for me, Jai saved this storyline. He’s the best character in the story, especially where character development is concerned. As the youngest therefore impressive Guardian, he comes from a very complicated family history that really supports his viewpoint. With such awful family, I get why he has the attitude and personality he does–his silence or anger, his anguish over the new feelings for Ari versus the idea of responsibility towards an unloving father–it’s easy to like him and I found myself wishing more than a handful of times that we saw his POV more than just a couple times.

The language was sometimes a little varying–characters would speak as adults with logical issues, then turn around and call someone an “asshat”–which of course I still giggled at, but given the life-threatening situations, I found it difficult to believe there wasn’t more serious freaking the eff out going on. I think Young was trying to balance it, though–to keep Ari as a human teenager while hanging very serious situations over her head and it didn’t always compute well.

While reading, Ari gave me some frustration. I wanted to throttle her at times when she allowed herself to be a human doormat. She’s a loner by nature, which is perfectly believable, but her attitude to do whatever everyone wants drives me crazy. For someone who’s alone a lot, she spends the majority of her time thinking about Charlie or Jai and instead of making me feel bad for her, I want to tell her buck up (or be all, “Okay, we get it already, Ari.”). I also think she’s a little too cool for school–when she finds out she’s Jinn, she sticks her ostrich head into the sand and pretends she never heard a word. She flat out refuses to accept the news and when she finally does, it’s in a shrugging “meh, okay”  way that made me grimace. There was no freak out, no uncontrollable crying or screaming…I’m sorry, I get that Ari likes ghosts like Ms. Maggie and whatever, but her reaction to the insane news supernatural creatures and of being a powerful, targeted Jinn is unforgivably unbelievable. I need reaction to circumstances and while she gives one to every other situation, this one was a biggie that fell flat. Like once she accepted it was all real, that was it. No problems, no questions asked, and suddenly The White King is her father in narration as opposed to “that scary motherf–dude.” Once decided she will leave her home to save family and friends (a fine hero personality), she’s very robotic about it. Other than Charlie, she seems to have no real problem about leaving home. I get that Ari’s making the “right choices” but there probably should’ve been a little more self-struggle with the decisions.

However, I will say she flashes a different, much stronger personality in many points of the story, which gives a good indication that it’s only a matter of time before she comes into her own. (In fact, I’ve read Book 2 of the series and while I won’t give anything away, I will say Ari is much more likeable when she realizes what needs to be done to save her existence.)

None of these things I listed, however, keep me from reading the series. As soon as I finished Smokeless Fire, I bought the second book (and I’ll hint that I think the second book is even better) and I’ll keep reading the series until she’s done. I was able to invest in these characters, despite their flaws, and that’s extremely important to me. It’s not necessarily about relating to them, but I do like them enough to care about them and wonder where they’re headed. I’m looking even more forward to Book 3, Borrowed Ember, to finally see how Ari is gonna nut up and take back her life. At the very least, she’s not a damsel in distress and that I can appreciate.

Wednesday and Friday we have interviews with Samantha Young on her favorite passage, her inspiration behind the series, and her advice to aspiring indie authors!

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