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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

on 9 April 2016
One thing that a good fantasy needs is a well developed background. 'Shades of Smoke' has that in abundance. Its history, politics, religion, economics, etc. are all well thought through and have an authentic feel to them. They provide a rich background against which the story develops at a good pace. However, they are not intrusive: they aren't forced into the story through heavy-handed information dumps - with the possible exception of the prologue, which I thought didn't provide the best possible start. Though to be fair, the information was both interesting and helpful in understanding the rest of the story.

And an excellent story it is as well! Cormell, the main character discovers that his artistic talent is actually evidence of a latent magical ability. (The system of magic is another area in which the writers have effectively combined vivid imagination and logical thinking to excellent effect). Armed with this talent, he sets out on a quest for justice and finds a great deal more besides. Along the way he learns how to use his gift in all sorts of unexpected ways – and also learns a great deal about himself and life in general.

Overall, one of the best written and most enjoyable fantasy novels I've come across in a while.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 February 2012
Cormell was born the only son of a leather worker. Working in his father's shop it seemed that becoming a craftsman was his destiny. However Cormell was also a highly skilled artist, creating stunning works either embossed in leather, drawn or painted, or crafted from sand. One day a passing mage recognised that Cormell's artistic skill was in fact latent ability in the art of Illusionism and from that day Cormell's life was never to be the same.

I loved this book! Despite it being over 9000 Kindle locations long, I absolutely devoured it and finished it in three days. The characters are strongly developed and the world these characters inhabit is totally believable and cleverly crafted. The lore, religion and magic of the world was particularly impressive. I especially liked the way that magic was given a background in science and the way all the branches of magic shared common themes.

I also liked the slightly unusual way the story was told. Broken into numerous chapters, each chapter almost stands alone as a discrete vignette, each telling its own story of one part of Cormell's adventures, but also adding a small part to the overall direction of the tale.

Kindle presentation was generally OK and I only spotted a handful of minor typo's in the entire story. Given the length of the story that is a very impressive achievement. I would personally have preferred the text to have been fully justified rather than just left aligned as I find the big spaces that this can end up leaving on the right hand of the text to be a bit distracting - but this really is a very petty complaint. I also thought that one particular plot device, that of using anagrams of names, was used too often, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the story.

Overall: 5 stars! This is one of the best indie fantasy stories I have read and I honestly really did have trouble putting it down at night and I ended up reading past midnight on two consecutive nights to finish it. I suspect and in fact hope that this is the first of a series, even though it stands alone as a totally complete book. The world that has been created and the characters that inhabit it are easily strong enough to support a second outing. I would highly recommend that you (as I did) download the quite long (almost 1000 Kindle locations) sample of this book and give it a try. I would be very surprised if you didn't then go on to buy the whole book! Highly recommended indeed.
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on 22 November 2013
Although I've always got a book on the go, I don't tend to read much from the fantasy genre, but thank the skygods I stumbled across this gem. As it is a fantasy novel it's not shackled by the confines of history, but at the same time it doesn't get carried away with elves, goblins or magic potions to keep the story moving. Like all the best stories it's a tale about human strength and frailty, chance and luck, friends and enemies, with a good old fashioned mystery thrown in to the mix to keep you hooked. Like any good story, it doesn't really matter what genre it's being told in, providing you can immerse yourself in to it, which is exactly what happened with Shades of Smoke. I can't wait to start reading Shades of Gold.
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on 21 February 2013
I HAVE read better - but this is a decent workmanlike novel. I enjoyed it and didn't feel tempted to put it down. Recommended.
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on 18 May 2016
My latest foray into the world of indie authors is “Shades of Smoke”. So, what is my first observation? Well, this book personifies that old saying perfectly – “don’t judge a book by its cover.” This is a good story.

Shades of Smoke is the debut novel by the writing duo of Alan Denham and Graham Buckley. It was released in 2011, but I was approached by Alan on Goodreads to see if I would like to read it, which was quite flattering. I had to accept. And overall, I'm glad I did.

So – what is this book? Well, from communications with Alan, he scoffed at the idea of this as a romance, and in true reviewer fashion, I am going to throw that back in his face. Romance is a key part of this story, and is a key part of what drags the reader on. But that’s good – it’s a nice story; a story where secrets and customs stand in the way as commanding barriers against that powerful master: emotion. So how do the protagonists overcome these barriers? That is one of the book’s questions.

And a story is nothing without its questions.

But it is not a romance novel. It is definitely fantasy, and in fact, it has a distinct murder mystery feel to it. Without giving too much away – though some – our protagonist finds himself on a long journey through isolated lands with strange happenings (and a certain vindictiveness) afoot. It is up to our character (though not formally) to uncover the truth of things, and this is the second key question. It is a “who dunnit” with a romantic interest for our investigator to ensure the reader’s emotional connection.

And in my naïve mind, this is a pretty winning combination. It is, as already mentioned, a nice story.

So – why is this not a standout story? Well, here’s the flip side.

In my view, the book is too long. And I think that this is actually quite easy to see from the structure. Roughly the first 40% of the book is filled with chapters that are not closely related to the main thrust of the story. Indeed – up until about 40% of the way through, I was more inclined to call the book “The Collected Adventures of Cormell” – because that is really what it was.

So, what is this first two fifths of the book? Well, I think that I can only really describe it as back-story. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is well written, and each chapter has its own arc and pull, but the problem is that each chapter just sort of ends. And there are no residual questions, so the compelling need to continue reading is absent. I only found myself picking up the book again because a) I knew I could read a quick self-contained short story; and b) I had committed to reviewing this book. But to reiterate: the quality of writing itself is excellent throughout, so it was never a hardship to read – just not compelling.

Until Cormell starts his journey.

Now, I wouldn't recommend starting this book from 40% through, but I would suggest that a lot of what goes on in the first section could have been more elegantly woven into the fabric of the story, and indeed, some of it may be unrequired at all. But let us not dwell on this – there is a great story to think about.

Now, one of the things that Alan and Graham have done really well is world-building. This truly is an exceptionally thought out fantasy novel. Each and every detail is considered carefully, and indeed, more than that, everything makes very tangible sense. And we have our magic, though even this is cleverly positioned between science and fantasy. Indeed, some of the magic is actually quite difficult to swallow in substance (I won’t give anything away), but because it is so cleverly explained, this is forgiven. And what’s more, though magic clearly has a certain power, it is not a dominating feature of the world – which is important.

And to further elaborate – quite literally every detail in the world of this novel has been exquisitely thought out. Even down to the petty politics of small towns, and the codes of behaviour along a single, unique trade route. It really is excellent world-building.

Now, part of the flip-side of this great world building is that Alan and Graham have so much to share. This means that, even where the book really kicks off, the pace is somewhat sedate. But I don’t think there is actually a problem with this if we accept that the slow-burning romance is a key ingredient in the recipe, and the language itself never feels laboured as a consequence – only thorough.

However, I do suspect that this does not quite reflect the intentions that the writers had in mind of when they described the book on Amazon. This suggests a fast-paced book with a comic edge, and though the comic edge is present, the fast pace is denied by the huge detail. As I say above, I don’t actually think this is a problem – just an observation.

But in fact, while I remember, there is one part of the book which appears to me to be entirely indulgent and unnecessary. The Prologue really has absolutely no bearing on the story and probably can be skipped. And in fact, I think it might actually be nice to have this book as a “pure fantasy” in the eye of the reader, until it is revealed later on that it is actually set “After the Fall” – that would be a big inward breath moment. But whether the content of the Prologue is key to the ultimate (beyond this volume) story or not is irrelevant; as written, it just doesn't work.

And a final observation: I gather from Alan that this has not been professionally edited, but this is actually quite hard to tell because the writing is really good. There are a few words that come up too often to be comfortable – ‘demure’ and ‘non-sequitur’ spring to mind – but the language is generally pretty good (albeit sedate as I mentioned earlier).

And the cover is an Achilles heel, but if you are reading this then hopefully you can look past that superfluous problem.

Indeed, overall this is a good story, and I enjoyed reading it. I wish it was half the length, but I feel satisfied nonetheless. Whether I am compelled to read the “Further Chronicles of Cormell”, I am not yet sure, but I am certainly glad I have met him and experienced his world – it really is a wonderful creation.

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on 1 March 2012
It is an epic fantasy especially in length. Avid readers of the fantasy genre are used to the fact that these books can be quite long. I liked the concept, which although not a completely new one, still managed to keep my interest. The main character has the skill of magic, but not how we would think of it. These skills are depicted as art forms, which puts a new perspective on magic. Drawing of images that reveal past, present and future. Conjuring of illusions and scientific skills. I felt that the first part of the story, which introduces Cormell and leads him on his path, seemed a little separated from the rest of the story. I think the writer/s need to take a closer look at how each chapter connects with the next one, because in the first half of the book the chapters read like single stories, as opposed to one complete story. I think this could be a novel that YA and young readers will like and enjoy if there were a version without the tiny naughty scene. Some authors do release versions for younger readers. Other than that I felt the characters were ones that I would like to read about again and the storyline has great potential. I received a complimentary copy of this book for my review.
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