Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby

A review of the science fiction fantasy novel Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby.

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I was really excited to read this book. I mean, firefighters versus dragons! Yes please.

Firefighter Cole Brannigan has spent thirty years fighting fires, and a decade cleaning up after dragons. He’s just about to retire—and then he discovers he’s immune to dragon smoke. This is a priceless advantage, and Cole is immediately recruited to the Smoke Eaters, the dragon fighters struggling to keep the city together.

The premise is super cool, and the story galloped along at a roaring pace, with firefighting, and dragon fighting, and human fighting—action scenes galore. It plays out like a summer blockbuster movie, and it definitely kept me reading to find out what happens next. The action doesn’t just come from the dragons; there was a lot of political tension with public opinion being swayed against the Smoke Eaters, and shady authority figures doing shady things.

The world-building is really thought out—the dragons’ behaviour was likened to cicadas, which I found really interesting, and there were a lot of details about the effects of technology in the society. At one point Cole’s riding the bus and reading the adverts—“Dirt won’t settle when you leave it to a man of metal!”—and I really dig the depth that adds.

My main bugbear was that I wanted Cole to be less cool. He always has a smart retort, he pretty much wins or excels in every fight he’s in, and he has the too-cool-and-badass-for-rules lone wolf rebel aesthetic that I sometimes like, but often don’t. The idea of an ageing protagonist who has to go back to being a rookie sounded awesome from the blurb, but that wasn’t really explored as much as it could have been. There’s a scene on his first day where Cole has to do fifty push-ups, and it’s made a big deal because he’s old and not as fit as he once was, and Cole does struggle with the exercise—but he completes it just fine. Maybe I’m sadistic, but I wanted to see him struggle more; I wanted to see him fail and then pick himself up again, and get stronger. But he’s pretty much awesome all the way through.

I don’t know, I just like watching characters suffer, man.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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