Aisley's Reviews, Book Reviews

Book Review: Cities of Smoke and Starlight, by Alli Earnest

Hello my wonderful friends!

It has been quite a while since I last posted a book review. School has been kicking my butt! Thankfully, I’m almost finished with graduation ready to rumble in July. I’m so excited!

But enough about me. I had the amazing opportunity to read an ARC copy of Alli Earnest’s debut book, Cities of Smoke and Starlight. It is very steampunk meets Indiana Jones with just a sprinkle of mythical magic and slow-burn romance on the side. I would categorize this book as science fantasy, and it was quite the ride!

Synopsis

When Kase Shackley accepted responsibility for an accident that nearly killed a greenie pilot, he thought his family name would protect him. 

He was wrong.

He didn’t expect the supreme commander of the military, his own father, to be the judge in his trial. 

Now, in order to evade retribution and clear his name, he joins a secret mission to find and make an alliance with the Yalvs, a long lost indigenous culture whose riches, magic, and metals could save their country from war with the neighboring Cerulenes.

His mission is further complicated when he realizes the Yalven scholar hired for the trip is none other than Hallie Walker, a rude, insolent young woman who humiliated and slapped him at the theater days before.

But in order to save their country, Kase, Hallie, and their rag-tag airship strike team must learn to work together to locate the long lost Yalven capital before the Cerulenes, or they, along with their country, will die in the attempt.

What I liked:

I really enjoyed the Indiana Jones and steampunk feel of the story, and I loved the idea of a post Earth society that crash landed on a random planet and had to make do because there was no way off. The cover art reflected this beautifully, giving me an idea of what type of adventure I was getting on the inside instantly.

Cities of Smoke and Starlight is marketed as a book with slow burn romantic elements, and this was right up my alley. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of romance subplots in books unless they are served to me in a specific way or snuck in under my radar. This book hits the nail on the head for me; it doesn’t move too fast, it’s not gushy or gross, and it felt like a realistic progression to me. 

One thing that really stood out about this book was the way the fantasy elements meshed with the steampunk feel and technology. It was interesting and exciting to see the characters fight dragons and ancient magical people with electropistols and the like. I also enjoyed the way the magical elements meshed with the archeological exploration aspect. The descriptions of the jungles, beaches, and ruins the characters had to fight their way through were vivid and engaging. 

Last, but not least, I loved the characters. They all felt unique and separate, with their own internal conflicts and personalities. I loved the different quirks each one had. For example, Hallie seemed to always drop her pencil no matter how hard she tried to keep track of it. Kase had really great interactions with his family, especially his brothers. It was easy to tell them apart and they had great sibling chemistry all throughout. Ebba’s feistiness and love for the airship was fun to read, especially when she poked fun at the other crewmates on the mission.  

Overall, I really liked this book. The pacing was great, the adventure was fun, and the world Earnest has built was really fun to explore! 

What I didn’t like:

While the story was engaging and fun, there were a couple things that pulled me out of the story pretty hard and one plot nugget that I was disappointed didn’t get expanded upon.

The first was that I experienced quite a bit of “white room” syndrome in the beginning of the book. So much focus was on how the characters moved, what they thought, or their emotions that I never got a good mental image of what the city or its inhabitants looked like because their descriptions were vague or there was no grounding comparison for what something or someone might look like. 

A good example of this is when describing the theater in the city, the text says, “Pillars carved with images from some forgotten tale Hallie had yet to read supported the structure.” I would have liked a brief description of the images on the pillars coupled with the information that Hallie hadn’t read their story yet to give me a better idea of what art looks like in this society. 

Another example happens when Kase is dragged into his father’s office. The only grounding information I got out of that scene was the high emotional charge, however I have no idea what the office of the supreme military commander would look like in a world that is supposed to have roots in our Earth, and I really would have loved to know what really made the commander tick, outside of his violent temper. 

The second thing that pulled me out of the story was the inconsistent and mal-fitting, world-specific cuss words. There were times where the cuss words felt natural and worked in the context they were used, but there were other moments where they felt awkward, stilted, and shoehorned in. There was even a character that used her own set of cuss words that I gathered were supposed to be specific to her industry because literally no other characters used them. 

After these two things, the only other thing I didn’t like was small, but still disappointing. Pretty late in the story, it comes out that there is potential for Kase to have some competition for his romantic interest. This got me really excited because it set the story up for heightened tension and conflict in future books, however I was disappointed by the end of the book when that possibility was almost immediately squashed. Looking back, I would have loved to see the competition more apparent and assertive throughout the whole book, instead of having an outside character reveal its existence right before the climax, and then nothing happen with it further.

All these dislikes aside, though, I really enjoyed this book. I am interested in where things are going to go from here and I will be waiting on pins and needles for the next one to come out for sure!

Content Warnings:

  • Violence: Medium/high, lots of head wounds from accidents and some pretty graphic dismemberment in the final battle.
  • Language: Mild, there are world-specific cuss words.
  • Sexual content: None, slow burn romance.
  • 4/5 stars

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Cities of Smoke and Starlight, by Alli Earnest”

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