Title: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Summary: In a post-apocalyptic world where the undead have invaded everywhere except one walled city, Mahyani Romeo and Catresou Juliet have just committed suicide. But in a world where death isn't so much the end as a stop along the way, it's not that simple. Torn apart from each other, each believing the other is (permanently) dead, Romeo and Juliet find themselves in unlikely partnerships with two of the play's secondary characters.
Juliet bonds to the perpetually angry novice Mahyani Runajo (the play's Rosaline) as they seek to unravel the mysteries of the Sisters of Thorn, magical guardians of the city's defenses against the undead. For his part, Romeo finds himself working alongside Juliet's fiance, Catresou Paris, to uncover the nefarious dealings of illegal necromancers, who might very well be coming from inside his own family.
If either of them fail, the city could fall to the ravening hordes of the undead. So . . . yikes?
First Impressions: This was a really interesting tweak on Romeo and Juliet, and I'm very much hoping it won't end as tragically as the classic. But I don't know because CLIFFHANGER ugh.
Later On: I love retellings, because the best ones have an effect on your interpretation of the original. That said, this isn't quite a retelling of Romeo and Juliet.
Picking up as it does after the end of the play, this book is more concerned with exploring the alternate world that Hodge has set up, using Paris and Runajo's points of view, with occasional diversions into the tale of Romeo and Juliet's courtship through their eyes. So it's more like a spinoff set in an alternate universe.
This world is extremely complicated. It throngs with conflicting loyalties, complex family and community obligations, and of course, the feud between families that started it all. In this world, the feud is more about differing beliefs and practices around death and life. Wading through all this takes some patience. I felt that it was rewarded.
Even more of a reward is getting to spend time with the ferocious Runajo and Juliet. Both are warriors, fierce and strong-willed. They have both spent their whole lives focused on a singular purpose - to become the Catresou family executioner, on Juliet's part, and to become a nun and magical defender of the city in Runajo's - but now in the rocky position of having to rethink everything they once believed. Paris and Romeo were less compelling as characters, but they spent more time in the city itself, illuminating the inner workings of the complex world that Hodge has built.
And, fair warning: in this book at least, Romeo and Juliet get all the way to the end still believing the other to be dead. The second book has no release date or even title yet (curses!) but when it comes out, I'll be picking it up.