HALL OF SMOKE by H.M. Long.
Titan Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Hessa is not in her goddess’ favour. An offering in blood. A plea for one’s life. Does it fall on deaf ears? She was raised in the Hall of Smoke but Eang does not appear to her now; will not answer. Hessa, disgraced priestess, made the Climb of Atonement, even as it meant leaving her home and her family. Was it all for nothing?
No response comes but the sound of war from below sends Hessa back down the mountain. It is too late. Too late to save her husband and her dear friend. She repays their deaths with the life of the one who slew them, but who sent them? Why did they come? Even with her Eangi Fire she cannot defeat them all. Now, the last of her people, Hessa vows to find her goddess and win back her favour.
Hall of Smoke follows the tale of the last Eangi as she journeys to find her lost goddess and discover whether she has truly been forsaken by the one she serves. This is a stand alone tale of warring, ancient gods and warriors that will please readers who prefer conflict and clashes over deep, emotional journeys. Its prime focus remains on the religious conflicts throughout Hessa’s journey.
Written in the first person, the reader is with Hessa for the whole story, experiencing her lows and disappointments first hand, which helps to connect with her story. It does, though, leave all other characters at a firm arm’s length, restricting the ability to empathise with or root for anyone but the protagonist, and even she at times is difficult to interpret.
The worldbuilding is sound; there are some unique touches rather than reliance on the usual tropes, and the brief glimpses into the gods’ High Halls adds dimension to their constant ‘off-page’ presence. The Eangi people are described well and are are easy to picture, but the action-description balance is heavily slanted towards the action, and modern epic fantasy readers will perhaps have wanted more detail and description of the various groups Hessa encounters.