Review: Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby

36230674._sy475_I’ve had this book on my shelf for a few years now. I’ve heard mixed things about it but the premise definitely sounded interesting. When Angry Robot offered me a copy of the latest book in the series, I figured that there was no time like the present to get caught up.

When dragons rise from the earth, firefighters are humanity’s last line of defence, in this wild near-future fantasy.

Firefighter Cole Brannigan is on the verge of retirement after 30 years on the job, and a decade fighting dragons. But during his final fire call, he discovers he’s immune to dragon smoke. It’s such a rare power that he’s immediately conscripted into the elite dragon-fighting force known as the Smoke Eaters.  Retirement cancelled, Brannigan is re-assigned as a lowly rookie, chafing under his superiors. So when he discovers a plot to take over the city’s government, he takes matters into his own hands. With hundreds of innocent civilians in the crosshairs, it’s up to Brannigan and his fellow Smoke Eaters to repel the dragon menace.

This one is hard to review because I had really mixed feelings about it. It’s the story of Cole Brannigan, who is a firefighter in fairly far-flung future Ohio. Dragons made a reappearance seven years previously, and since then the world has pretty much burned to ash. Humans live in small city-states, and it’s up to the Smoke Eaters, a special branch of firefighters that are immune to dragon smoke, to fight them. When Cole finds out that he’s immune to dragon smoke, his retirement is cancelled and he’s drafted right into the Smoke Eaters, and then the shenanigans really start.

As I said, I had really mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, the premise was really interesting, and a lot of the action scenes in which there was dragon fighting were really, really cool. On the other hand, the portrayal of women made my eyes roll repeatedly, and the portrayal of Canadians was… almost a little insulting? Though, I suppose it’s possible that we could become crazy dragon zealots in a crazy dragon future. I doubt it, but it’s certainly possible…  LonGLivEdRaGONsehHH? (sorrey not sorrey. *mustache twirl*).

As for the male-gazey portrayal of women, well this was told in the first person from the point of view of an old guard firefighter, so it’s hardly surprising that he and his point of view are rather blue-collar, right? Which, okay… I get that… but he’s an old guard firefighter in like 2210 or something like that. I’d honestly hope that by that point we’d be past things like describing an old woman by repeatedly mentioning how ugly and saggy her breasts are, or pointing out a random woman in passing and describing her as one of the (apparently many) women your wife is jealous of (but don’t worry wife, because this woman is ‘fifty pounds too heavy for my tastes and bats for the other team’). If there wasn’t evidence that this took place in the future, I’d have assumed that this dude was a product of the 1950s.

But honestly, I didn’t have a bad time with the book as a whole. It had highs and lows. The audiobook was only about 9 hours long, and as I listen to it at about 1.7x speed, I finished it in one day of work. With the excitement of the dragon fighting action scenes, the book seemed to just fly on by. I don’t think my problems with this one were a problem with the series or the writing in general, as much as it was a general dislike of the character who tells this particular story, and how he tells it.

This is a series of three (two currently and one coming in June) books that are in the same world but follow three different characters in it, and I know that the next book in the series follows someone completely different to Cole Brannigan, and so as much as this one was a mixed bag for me, I’m going to continue on to the next books and see if the dragon-shenanigans reach new levels! 2.5/5 stars!


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