Ship of Smoke and Steel is the first book in the Wells of Sorcery Trilogy by Django Wexler. It seems purposefully designed from the ground up to be a YA novel and is his first novel in the genre. He is also the author of the adult flintlock fantasy series The Shadow Campaigns. Tor Teen sent an advanced ebook of this title to me for review. The book releases on January 22nd, 2019 in the US.
Content: I would call this PG-13. Sex is referenced and implied but not shown. The main character(aged 17) has a very dark view of the world for the life she’s led.
The highlight of this novel was truly the nature of the world and the magic. It is pretty light on worldbuilding but the magic system is the star. It’s not that it’s overly complicated or even complex but that it provides for very awesome action. Our main character can basically spawn lightsabers from her hands and armor from her well of power Melos. Others can tap into different Wells that allow them other superhuman abilities such as speed, force fields, and fire. Seeing these powers go up against the giant crabs and monsters that stalk the ghost ship was a lot of fun.
There’s also a great deal of intrigue in the ghost ship and the secrets it holds. Our main character is highly motivated to uncover these secrets which propels the story at the fast pace that’s expected in the genre.
I think it’s also important to note that while this didn’t always work for me it might be a big selling point for other readers. Our main character who we experience in the first person is indomitable. She has seen a lot of hardship and just keeps fighting. Even if that has led her moral compass astray. A relatively dark inner monologue is born out of this but it feels like it comes from that youthful place of reconciling one’s own experience with the nature of the world around you.
I wasn’t however completely invested throughout the tale. For one the pace of the story seems to rush certain character beats and development. I also didn’t feel interested in the romance plot either. Though I may have liked her romantic interest(who is also a young woman with a painful past but with an altogether different upbringing) slightly more as a character. Whether if this is simply because I am not in the target audience or whether I didn’t believe in the arc of the emotionally weary protagonist, I do not know.
And because I find this to be an especially important factor: It did not end on an annoying cliff hanger. And while obviously leaving plenty of plot elements left to be resolved, we still get what feels like an ending to this chapter of the story.
Overall I found a lot of enjoyment in this novel even if it did not hit on all cylinders for me. Highly recommend for YA fans who want great action and magic in an unusual fantasy setting.