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Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigbsy

8/10 Frequently poignant, terrifying and, yes, just a little cheesy

Firefighter Sean Grigsby’s near future debut sees the world infested with dragons risen from beneath the ground. The wingless wyverns rise up to destroy cities and take lives, leaving only the shadows of people - ‘wraiths’ - behind. It’s up to the ‘smoke eaters’ – those special few born with the ability to breathe smoke – to defend their fellow citizens, and their world.

Cole Brannigan, a patriotic, hard-working fireman who’s spent 30 years in the force and is on the verge of retirement, lies at the heart of this story. But just before he puts his feet up for good, he discovers he’s got that most hallowed ‘smoke eater’ gift, and is summarily signed up to join the elite dragon-fighting force.

Brannigan is the best thing about this novel. He feels real, relatable and sympathetic, and is a testament to the author’s heartfelt writing. Grigsby’s portrayal of the fire department, from the camaraderie to the machinery, not forgetting the petrifying experience of entering a burning building, feels so authentic that not even the dragons mar its believability.

Our lead here is supported by a varied and intriguing team of fellow fireman (smoke eaters and non) who are put through the political, physical and emotional mill both in the fight to save their friends and family from dragons, and their livelihoods from the threat of advancing technology.

While Smoke Eaters is a largely enjoyable read, it’s not without its flaws. A few characters could do with a bit more depth and occasionally Brannigan’s attitudes seem strangely reductive, jarring with an otherwise well-rounded protagonist.

However, Grigsby’s debut remains frequently poignant, terrifying and, yes, just a little cheesy, telling an exciting story that feels as real as if the author himself has lived it (which he no doubt has – and has probably faced things scarier than dragons…).

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