Review: Smoke and Summons (Numina Trilogy 1) by Charlie N Holmberg

NB-I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a review, but that in no way affects my opinion of it. Read:this isn’t an ad, I just loved this novel

This is the best book I’ve read this year. I understand that it’s only February, but I firmly believe that this will remain among the best books I’ve read for years to come. This book is so good I found myself taking writing notes as I read it because everything about it—the plot, the tension, the characterisation, the worldbuilding, the magic system, the relationships—was executed so flawlessly. Read this book.


I’m not sure the cover is amazing enough to match this book, but I appreciate the striking colour scheme, and the depiction of Ireth. Go Ireth!

A captivating world of monsters and magic from the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician Series.

As a human vessel for an ancient spirit, Sandis lives no ordinary life. At the command of her master, she can be transformed against her will into his weapon—a raging monster summoned to do his bidding. Unlike other vessels, Sandis can host extremely powerful spirits, but hosting such creatures can be fatal. To stay alive, she must run. And in a city fueled by smoke and corruption, she finds a surprising ally.

A cunning thief for hire, Rone owns a rare device that grants him immortality for one minute every day—a unique advantage that will come in handy in Sandis’s fight for freedom. But Sandis’s master knows how powerful she is. He’s determined to get her back, and he has the manpower to find her, wherever she runs.

Now, to outwit her pursuers, Sandis must put all her trust in Rone and his immortal device. For her master has summoned more than mere men to hunt her down…

There are two main characters in this book—Rone and Sandis. By the end of the novel you will love them both. Sandis is an amazing, unconventional heroine that I dare you not to sympathise with. When she is betrayed at one point, I got angry for her, and when she succeeded I wanted to cheer. She’s no helpless damsel, either, despite the attempts from the antagonist to bend her in that direction. She grows and learns constantly, and stays firm in her convictions despite the many challenges thrown in her path. With a wholesome, nurturing character it is occasionally difficult for naivety to be read as anything other than weakness, but Sandis’s constant efforts to improve, reach her goals and carry her own weight in whatever way possible neatly sidestepped that issue. Anyone who reads Smoke and Summons and still believes that kindness and weakness are the same thing has missed the point.

Rone is an amazing example of a charming rogue, his voice reminded me of my favourite character from too many series to count. Most noticeably, I was reminded of Eugenides from Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series. His backstory is compelling, his characterisation is entertaining, and his voice is distinct. Everything in this book is deliberate, several times what seemed like chance comments or casual world or relationship building ended up being foreshadowing skilfully woven into the novel in a natural, incredibly satisfying way.

There were several points in the book that subtly provides commentary on real world issues—most noticeably the discrimination Sandis faces for being something she never chose to be. The corruption of Kolingrad’s prison, political and immigration system was likewise never shied away from, and can stand as an eloquent parallel to issues faced by many people today.

The tone never gets too heavy, however, with comedic situations and lines of dialogue strewn throughout Smoke and Summons. The banter between characters and the sprawling details of the city at times reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork, and at others of Raymond E Feist’s Krondor—both from some of my favourite series of books (The Discworld series and Midkemia cycle, respectively).

The world built in Smoke and Summons is amazingly rich. The environment often mirrors the tone of the book, without ever seeming heavy handed or obvious. The city of Kolingrad is fully realised, with a historical depth that intrigues rather than becoming boring. The religious and political systems are only laid out in broad strokes, but I imagine they will be explored in greater depth in future novels.

Smoke and Summons was amazing because the whole book felt fresh and intense, plot points were introduced with a rapidity that never seemed rushed or forced, and problems were solved the same way. The only ‘predictable’ part of the novel occurred towards the end, but the twist the novel ends on nicely offsets any potential anti-climactic feelings.

A warning for those with self-control enough not to immediately read this masterpiece—it ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. I actually typed out ‘Gggggggngh’ as my final note while reading Smoke and Summons because I want to know what happens next right now. I will be pre-ordering the next book as soon as I can, and buying myself a physical copy of this one whenever I next decide to treat myself. Smoke and Summons is a gripping, incredible novel that begins what is sure to be an amazing trilogy. Honestly, if you take one book recommendation from me, make it this one.



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