Out in January 2021 from Titan Books, Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long is an exciting debut set in a Viking-inspired world of gods and warrior priestesses. Many thanks to Titan for sending me an early review copy.
Hessa is an Eangi, a priestess of Eang – the Goddess of War. But when the story sets out, she is in disgrace because she failed to follow Eang’s plan to kill a visitor. Off on a mountain to offer prayer and sacrifice to the Goddess, Hessa is absent when her town gets raided and comes back to devastation. A world in which deities walk among mortals and come when called, full of supernatural powers, Hall of Smoke draws you in quickly and doesn’t let you go again. H.M. Long weaves an intricately crafted narrative around the fall of gods, a pantheon on the brink of extinction. Combined with this is a story about colonialization, and the tension between old and new.
Hall of Smoke is well-written and compelling, even if slightly predictable at times. Many of the characters read like archetypes rather than people, especially the deities. It suits the story, which is reminiscent of one told around a campfire over the course of many days. Hessa herself is great, growing into her own and gaining confidence and self-determination over the course of the story. Her life and views are challenged constantly as she tries to regain Eang’s favour. She has to find meaning in a sea of uncertainty and build her own view of the world after everything she has known is upended. Something that I really appreciate about Hall of Smoke is that due to the attack on her town at the beginning of the book, Hessa has to learn to stand on her own, and subsequently this is a book without romance at its centre.
Central themes are fallibility and change. Both humans and gods make mistakes and have to figure out a way to make up for them. Moral compasses are less important than survival, giving Hall of Smoke some serious Grimdark vibes. Ultimately, the war between old gods and new will be determined over the course of this story, which ends on a satisfying conclusion. I am both glad and sad that Hall of Smoke is a standalone novel, as I loved the world, but it is also nicely self-contained and does not require any waiting for instalments. A very solid four stars for me, and I can’t wait to see what H.M. Long comes up with next.