Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
When the house burned down, Rita and Bevan were never seen again. Several summers earlier, fourteen-year-old twins Mae and Rossa went to stay with their aunt in a house that contained more than it seemed. Mae becomes infatuated with Bevan, who in turn only has eyes for Sweet James, a creature that promises her the world in exchange for tastes of flesh. Rossa feels distanced from his sister for the first time ever, excluded from whatever the women are up to.
It’ll get huge, for a while. It’ll walk around your veins and your stomach. You might even feel it in your rib cage, or your heart, like the songs say. But eventually it’ll get smaller and smaller and will run out of steam, until it’s a tiny thing that you barely remember. It’ll get replaced by other loves.
Other Words for Smoke is the most beautifully written creepy tale, set over several Irish summers. The owl that lives in the wallpaper of Bevan’s room has her twisted round his wing, demanding bones in exchange for glimpses into the other rooms. He is named Sweet James, which seems even more sinister and he teaches Bevan to be manipulative. Bobby is more than a cat who warns them all away from the owl, knowing just how much damage he can do.
It is almost romantic, you think. A reunion, a rekindling. You, the girl, and he the great and terrible interdimensional beast. Tale as old as time.
The pages contain the awkwardness of coming of age, adolescent feelings, first loves and period pains, mingling with the wrongness of the house. Bevan’s chapters are told in second person, something I’m getting more used to, and it helps get across the idea that there’s something getting into her head. It is one of those occasions where second person just works, adding to the atmosphere.
I loved the intertwining of a dark piece of Ireland’s past, the wrongs done to girls in the name of religion coalescing into something other. The ending was fitting and it was the perfect standalone. It’s as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside.
Rossa counted the indentations in the white metal as he breathed himself back to sanity, each corrugated ridge his breath, an up and a down, a pattern until it wasn’t. Until the white metal became matte, like bone. Until each ridge was no longer even, but toothlike, all wrong, a white mouth of fangs in his vision. A sinister origami of white.
Other Words for Smoke is published by Titan Books and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 26. A book that’s published in 2019
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