Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler
Publication Date: January 22, 2019
Summary from Goodreads:
In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there’s money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire—an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty’s service—she’s sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit.
I initially picked this book up to read because it is by a local author. I try to support local authors as much as I can, especially the ones who are lesser known, by reading and reviewing their books. I read and enjoyed Mr. Wexler’s middle grade series, The Forbidden Library, so I decided to give this one a go. It is his first foray into YA.
For the first few chapters I was amazed at the magical system and the world building was interesting. But I was put off by the senseless violence and the lack of empathy in the main character, Isoka. I found her very unlikeable and just couldn’t relate to her, even though I could understand why she was the way she was. She killed people and as she admits, she was good at it. She was not at all remorseful about it either. I hoped that when she went to see her sister, I would get a glimpse of something good in her, but even then she felt distant and indifferent to even her sister.
It was because of Isoka that I seriously considered not finishing the book. I rarely do this as I feel like I owe the author a chance, but I just wasn’t finding anything that was holding my attention. So, one morning I just decided to give this book one more shot, and I ended up being glad that I did. In fact I found myself totally engrossed by it. About half way through the book I started to see glimmers of goodness in Isoka. She started to care about the people around her, especially Meroe. It is the relationship that develops between these two that saved this book for me. Plus the plot got super good about this time too.
The magical system is an interesting and complex one, and the story reveals it a little bit at a time. So it does take some time to wrap your head around it. There are these nine wells that people can reach into and draw certain powers from. Isoka happens to draw from Melos, the Well of Combat. She can create these blades from her wrists as well as a shield around her body. Throughout the book we encounter others who draw from different wells, and some can draw from more than one. Everyone on the ship can draw from one of the wells to varying degrees of proficiency.
The ship that Isoka ends up on is unlike anything that I have encountered. Life on board is harsh and brutal. A word of warning, don’t get too attached to any character, they are likely to be dead by the next chapter. But as the plot plays out things start to make sense and the ship is fascinating. It’s hard to explain without spoiling it, so you just have to trust me on this one. The creatures that they have to kill in order to survive are also very interesting although quite violent as well.
So even though this book was tough to start with, I ended up quite liking it. It is the first in a trilogy and I think I will be picking up the next one. I can’t wait to see how Isoka turns out, and what is really going on on that ship.