Smoke City by Keith Rosson is my second literary encounter with this author. My first was in Behind The Mask: A Superhero Anthology which I reviewed here . Both books were sent to me by the publisher, Meerkat Press, as ARCs for review.
Near future Los Angeles is having a huge epidemic of spectral appearances in Smoke City, but we don't become aware of them until the characters arrive there. That's because this fantasy isn't primarily about ghosts. It focuses on the characters. There are two major viewpoint characters who are central to the narrative.
The first is Michael Vale, a former artist who has become a self-destructive alcoholic. He is somewhat sympathetic because he was cheated out of the rights to his work by his agent. Yet there are limits to my sympathy. Like almost everyone in Vale's life, I lost patience with him. Vale was ostensibly seeking redemption, but he seemed to be a hopeless case. If he were the only viewpoint character, I might not have continued reading Smoke City much beyond the novel's opening. Fortunately, this was not the case.
Marvin Deitz is far more interesting and compelling. He is the latest incarnation of a 15th century Frenchman who lit the fire that burned Joan of Arc. He has been cursed to a continuous cycle of violent death and rebirth since then, and is consumed with guilt. Marvin also remembers every detail of his past lives without any need for past life regression therapy.
Joan of Arc is one of my historical obsessions. This is why I read and reviewed The Maid of Heaven by Aiden James and Michelle Wright here. Marvin reminded me of the protagonist of The Maid of Heaven who is the biblical Judas cursed with immortality. This isn't an identical concept to Rosson's, but it is a similar one since the immortal Judas has lived many lives by moving from place to place and assuming different identities. A major difference is their relationship to Joan of Arc. Marvin was once Joan's executioner, but the immortal Judas is an ally of Joan's who fought for her cause. Like Marvin, this Judas also wants to redeem himself, but his crime is a more ancient one which has made him infamous. Marvin is a good deal more angst-ridden than the immortal Judas. I think that not having to undergo terrible deaths gives that notorious betrayer a somewhat sunnier disposition. When I was reading Marvin's account of his past lives, I couldn't help wondering what would have happened if he had met Judas from The Maid of Heaven.
I also found myself comparing Marvin to the Norse deity, Odin. Both Marvin and Odin lost an eye, but Odin received wisdom in return for this loss. Marvin's loss of an eye was not an ennobling sacrifice. It was part of his ongoing punishment for his execution of a saint.
For Vale and Marvin, their journey to Los Angeles turns out to be transformative. Vale experiences character growth, and Marvin has some extraordinary experiences with ghosts that change everything for him. I was glad to see the much improved Vale, and a happier Marvin.
Readers who like their urban fantasy with a focus on characters, and a historical dimension will probably like Smoke City a great deal.