I don't know what I initially thought I was getting into with Douglas Wynne's 'Smoke and Dagger' when I planned to take on this review.. but it was not what I expected.. and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways.
While early pages are almost clinical and sent me scurrying back to re-read the synopsis, the story is actually filled with intriguing scenes and a good deal of subterfuge on pretty much everyone's part. I won't say that it starts off slow, because it doesn't. There is some storytelling sleight of hand and that's what made me think I didn't remember what I was about to read, though I was still just as eager to get into it.
Normally, I research an author before I settle in to do a review because I like to have a good understanding of their work. I don't typically like to do this before a read because it allows me to take everything in with a clear head.. no distractions or presumptions. The cover is gorgeous and instantly put me in mind of Alan Moore's 1980's run - 'V for Vendetta', 'The Watchmen', and 'Batman: The Killing Joke', to be specific.. and from a societal perspective, that was perfect for the story within.
Ultimately, that had an entertaining result with this book. Wynne opens with a small handful of quotes, the first of which comes from H.P. Lovecraft, the second from Friedrich Nietzsche, and the last.. a man I was wholly unfamiliar with. In fact, I had no idea he was a real person until after I finished the story, but he is.. and he's fascinating enough to be worth looking up.. if you have the interest.. but I won't spoil that for you here.
The result of the aforementioned quotes was I initially thought he'd subtly set-up my perception to feel like the book had a Lovecraftian bend, without it being stated. The quote put him in my subconscious, then when I read some of the descriptions, that was just naturally the direction my mind went. What's really neat about this is, I discovered that the series this book belongs to, is actually Cthulhu Mythos, but even coming in late as I did and beginning with this prequel.. I hit the ground running before the word 'Cthulhu' actually came up in the story.
I know.. I know. Lovecraft had distasteful opinions. But the man could write. To this day.. I think his 'At the Mountains of Madness' is still one of the more terrifying stories I've ever read.. and I absolutely have to applaud Douglas Wynne for doing that legendary author, justice.
The action is well-placed and the character development.. so far as he is willing to show us without tipping his hand.. is full and enjoyable. The rituals are both mesmerizing and highly detailed, so beautifully that I easily pictured what was meant to be seen and immediately recognized it in the illustrations which periodically grace the inner pages. Honestly, I didn't so much feel as if I were reading a story.. as I did a memoir, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of cyphers, artist renderings, and diagrams.
The book is a relatively short, easy read.. and it's so much fun. Atmospherically, it's gritty, downright brutal at times, and it left me wanting more of this series. Since it's a prequel, I feel like anyone can pick it up and get right into the story. I will definitely be looking into the other novels, but I hope you'll give this one a chance. If you like Lovecraftian horror even a little, you're going to love it.