Smoketown by Tenea D. Johnson. ★★★★
Smoketown is a novel that’s hard to categorize. It’s got elements of the post-apocalyptic, dystopian, and urban fantasy. And the writing is simply lovely! So lyrical and beautiful. There’s a reason I’ve compared this one to the books of Charles de Lint. Really, it’s a huge shame that more people haven’t heard of Smoketown.
Twenty years ago the city of Leiodare, a futuristic city-state located in the former state of Kentucky, was struck by a plague. Birds were perceived to be the cause, and so birds were banned from Leiodare. Now Anna Armour, an artist and factory worker, is waiting in Leiodare in hopes of finding the woman she loved who left her. Anna also has a strange gift – she can use her art to bring her creations to life. Also in Leiodare is Eugenio, a medical anthropologist investigating the cause of the original plague, and Rory, the last member of the city’s most privileged family, who spends his remaining days watching the world go by from the windows of his apartment.
Smoketown is not plot focused. While there was a plot behind the origins of the plague and the history of the city, I found it weakly contrasted and not very compelling. The plot actually ended up feeling extraneous to the characters and atmosphere.
The focus of Smoketown is clearly on the world building. The city of Leiodare leaps off the page incredibly vividly. It was a beautiful piece of world building. I feel like it went very well with some of the themes of the book – change and creation mostly. There’s a sense of artistry to the entire novel.
If you’re looking for an exquisitely dreamy piece of genre blurring science fiction and fantasy, Smoketown is just the book for you. I would also recommend it to anyone with an interest in queer black science fiction.