Ruins of Smoke is a prequel novella to The Smokesmiths series. It follows four POV characters in a single grand-scale battle. As two deities use their avatars in the world to settle the old conflict between them, chaos rains down over the city of Ushar. Large demons from another realm battle a variety of warriors who can wield a smoke-based magic through the connection to their deity, the Essence.
There are many things to love about this novella, the first of which may be the impressive scale of a book with such a small page count. Though the entire story is one long battle through the perspective of different combatants, the fighting always has extra dimensions to expose the depth of this very interesting magic system. The stakes could not be higher, which becomes more and more evident the further you read on.
Without having read Seeds of War, I can see quite clearly that this story sets up a key foundational event for the main series, which takes place many years later.
Through the lens of the different combatants, we see the depth of the magic systems being created in this world. We mainly get to know the Essence, which manifests through a smoke based magic system. Depending on the user's relationship with the essence, they might operate in a pseudo hive mind warrior collective, wield larger than life anime-inspired smoke blades, form green lantern like smoke constructs, or gain power through necromantic relationships with smoke and fire. The utility and the adaptability of the magic system makes it extremely fun to learn about.
I have not read Seeds of War, so I cannot speak to whether it’s better to start with this novella or with book one in the series. I imagine it gives a good deal of context for not only Silva's writing style and the world of The Smokesmiths, however readers who come to the novella second might have more context for the battle for Ushar and its significance in the world.
If you are starting with Ruins of Smoke, I will warn you that there are lots of names and terms thrown at you right away in chapter one. If you give it time, the explanations come relatively quickly, but you will have to be a bit patient.
As with most multi-POV books, I gravitated to some characters more than others. The brothers Agor and Alamakar were far more interesting to me than Jeha and Matala. The stakes of the story really rested on Agor and Alamakar, which gave their chapters more weight for me.
Jeha and Matala served to provide more context for the battle and develop the different aspects of the magic systems, but I found their motivations more standard. They wanted to fight for their fellow warriors and their city. Their chapters ended up being a great window into the world building, but I wasn't invested in their characters as much. That will be different for different readers.
I found the most interesting character to be Agor, who became the avatar for The Old One, also known as the Deceiver. Silva could have taken this character through the easy path of rage and a hunger for power, but he made Agor a much more fragile character instead. Agor is hurt by all the damage, destruction, and death around him. The protagonists are far angrier and hate-filled than he is. However, despite his distaste for the violence The Old One is inflicting on Ushar, he believes it is necessary because he sees the Essence as an insidious virus that has infected his people. This made him a much more interesting character to follow as he struggles with his role in the death of people he cares for.
Overall, I enjoyed this quick read and am even more interested in starting Seeds of War. Not that I wasn't already excited for that one.
Standard disclaimer: I received an eARC of Ruins of Smoke from the author in hopes of an honest review. These thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone.