Hall of Smoke


H. M. Long


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

October 3, 2021

all of Smoke is another of those serendipitous finds from scanning the New In Paperback shelves at our local library. I had never heard of Hall of Smoke nor H. M. Long, but something about the short description on the cover convinced me to take it home and give it a chance. I am certainly glad I did, because I discovered a wonderful tale in a violent fantasy world. In Long's creation the gods are real and interact with mortal humans, much in the way the gods of Olympus were always interfering with the Greeks in myths. The gods have human faults - anger, jealousy, fear and ambition, and they use their worshippers to further their own agendas..

The protagonist of Hall of Smoke is a priestess named Hessa. Hessa serves the Goddess of War, called Eang. Thus, Hessa is an Eangi - she is capable warrior gifted with a supernatural Fire that can turn the bones of her enemies to dust. When the novel opens, Hessa has been banished from the tribal village; her priestess collar has been stripped away. Hessa's crime was failing to act on Eang's command that she kill a stranger named Omaskat, who has one blue eye and one golden eye. Omaskat came to her village as a friendly traveler, and was offered peace and welcome under Hearth Law, before Hessa realized that the amiable visitor was the man that Eang ordered her to kill. Unwilling to violate Hearth Law, Omaskat departed unharmed, and now Hessa is at a shrine of Eang, begging forgiveness. But Eang doesn't deign to appear. Suddenly, the sound of distant war horns carries up the mountain, and Hessa races back to defend her village. She is too late. Algatt raiders have slaughtered or captured everyone in her village; Hessa is the last Eangi alive.

Long has constructed a unique and interesting world. There are different tribes, such as the Eang and the Algatt, each of whom worship a different god. There is a mighty empire called Apnar to the south, its legions are pushing north, expanding their empire. There are supernatural beings, demons and older gods, that interact with the humans. These dangerous, powerful entities are now more evident in the world than ever - are there dramatic changes occurring in the order of things? Hessa remains dedicated to Eang, despite the goddess of War's failure to protect her home village.

Bereft of family or allies, Hessa's goal is to return to Eang's good graces, because if Hessa is a loyal worshipper, then when she dies, she will be admitted to the High Hall of the Gods (sort of like Valhalla in Norse legends) where she will rejoin with her dead husband in the afterlife. Eventually Eang deigns to respond to Hessa's prayers, and informs her that if she wants to be reinstated as a priestess, she must complete the task the Eang originally assigned to her: Hessa must track down Omaskat and slay him. And so Hessa journeys across this violent landscape, searching for one man in a world that has descended into chaos.

The world building is excellent, Long has constructed a detailed and original landscape, and populated it with gods and cultures and dangers. The story is told in first person, narrated by Hessa as she grapples with the challenges and growing doubts in her mind. Omaskat told her things about the gods which are obviously false, and yet... why didn't Eang protect the village from the raiders? Why is Eang not answering Hessa's prayers? Hessa (and the reader) learn a lot about the history of the gods, new and old. I enjoyed this novel, and I am pleased to see that a sequel, Temple of No God is slated for publication in 2022.