"Through the Smoke" is the very first book by Brenda Novak I've ever read and I am quite certain this will not be my last read from her. This wonderful story struck me well in so many ways for its dark tone, Gothic texture, romantic relationship between the two leads, and overarching mystery/suspenseful elements peppered through the narrative.
The story revolves around a bookseller named Rachel McTavish who is confronted by the local Earl of Druridge (Truman) over the events of a fire that killed his former wife (Katherine). Rachel wants nothing to do with the man, yet finds herself not only drawn to him but reeling from a set of events that have her asking questions in the midst of many personal tragedies and hardships that come with her association with the Earl.
Truman is a man who doesn't take no for an answer, and considering Katherine bore a child that wasn't his, he's determined to find whatever means necessary to discover the truth of who the father of her unborn child was, and who set the fire that killed her that night.
This book had me from point one with the strong writing and perspective points between Truman and Rachel. It's a dark toned story, with many events in the measure of tragedy for both characters and uncovering a larger mystery that involves them both. The romance between Rachel and Truman was incredibly well drawn, as were the established tensions that came with their relations and class differentials. It causes far more problems than anything that Rachel expected and I really felt for her and her little brother as they deal with their personal tragedies, ostracism from the town around them, among other hardships.
I actually found myself really caring for Truman as well, because while there are times when he is incredibly persistent and cruel (which tie into his own fatal flaws as well as the situation), Novak aptly develops him as a rounded character who develops such a realistic affection and protectiveness of Rachel, as well as has to deal with his own internal demons and social status about to fall by the wayside with the allegations made against him.
The narrative carried the overarching mystery very well and I didn't expect the players or the rationale to be what it was - it kept me reading between the convincing chemistry of the leading characters. This is one of my favorite historical romances of recent note and I wholeheartedly recommend it for those who want to read a enthralling Gothic mystery/romance. Definitely looking forward to reading more from the author in the future.
Overall score: 5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Montlake Romance.