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Numina Trilogy #1

Smoke & Summons

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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…

332 pages, Hardcover

First published February 1, 2019

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About the author

Charlie N. Holmberg

39 books6,734 followers
Charlie N. Holmberg is an award-winning, best-selling, and internationally published author of fantasy and romantic fiction. She was raised a Trekkie alongside three sisters, who also have boy names. She is a BYU alumna, plays the ukulele, owns too many pairs of glasses, and finally adopted a dog. She currently lives with her family in Utah. Visit her at www.charlienholmberg.com.

Amazon: amzn.to/2BXoQNZ
Instagram: Instagram.com/cnholmberg
Facebook: Facebook.com/cnholmberg
Twitter: Twitter.com/cnholmberg

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,120 reviews
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,538 reviews9,967 followers
January 1, 2019
This book was freaking awesome!!

I got this book as my Kindle First pick for January! You know, it sounded good and all but I had no idea! This world of magic and demons and people in a world together.

Sandis and Rone are the main characters and I loved them!! I even loved Ireth, even though I shouldn’t. I hope he shows back up in the next book! We shall see!

Happy Reading!

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾
31 reviews3 followers
January 25, 2019
No one's going to read this, why do I write book reviews? None of my friends are on this site, and I doubt people who are on the site look for other people's reviews. Oh well.

I think Charlie builds a decent fantasy world, but this one is a lot weaker than her Paper Magician series. I think this is an attempt to make a darker series but keep her super-wholesome religious characters. It's not that this is a hopepunk or whatever people are calling it, but you can definitely tell that the author is very devout and has particular ideas on how people should be, and that's what she writes about. The main character is pure, trusting, and constantly being degraded by the world, literally dropped in the sewers multiple times and enslaved (but never violated!) and yet never loses her faith in a thinly veiled god. She is betrayed by the last person she trusts but is obviously going to forgive this person because she just wants to cook for him or something, I don't know. Honestly, the budding romance is the worst, I'd rather she rescue herself thanks.

Reading Charlie's books, you can guess what part of the US she's from, and that's fine. She's obviously very devout, and it shows because her characters are a very particular sort of wholesome.
In the Magicians series it works because it's set in Victorian England anyway, so it fits well for the time, and the heroine was mostly working out her own shit. It just felt more organic. The Numina series feels forced, like she set out to write about her faith and how it interacts with the world through a bunch of metaphors around slavery and demonic possession and endless bouncing between sewers and rooftops (get it, highs and lows!). The girl is possessed of awesome power but never wields it herself, she is only a vessel for some otherworldly force to act through her. She literally has no agency of her own, she's called a vessel like 100 times, and most of the book is her being backed into a corner before her fire-horse-demon or her boyfriend-betrayer can save them, probably by descending into a sewer. It seems like the only things she does of her own free will, her contribution to trying to get away, is cleaning up and making sure the boyfriend-betrayer gets something to eat.

This is Twilight-level wish fulfillment fantasy. Which is fine if that's your thing, but it isn't mine.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
May 6, 2019
$1.99 Kindle sale, May 5, 2019. Pretty good YA fantasy, the start of a new series (the second book has just been published). 3.25 stars. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:

Smoke & Summons is the start of a new YA fantasy trilogy by Charlie N. Holmberg, with an interesting, rather dark occult concept underlying it. Demons and spirits, called numina, from the ethereal plane are able to be summoned and controlled by those who know the necessary rituals, which include painfully branding a person’s back with golden script and tattooing the demon’s name in blood above it. Kazen, an evil man in his sixties (seriously, he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever) has figured out a system to use these ancient powers for his own ambitions: he finds teens and children who have no family to protect them and who have the qualities necessary to be a vessel for a demon ― good health, no piercings, virginity and a cryptically described but vital quality called an “open spirit” ― and enslaves them. Then he can trot out the demon at will to terrorize and injure people so they’ll do what he wants, like sign over certain assets to him. What Kazen is doing is also highly illegal, so if any of his young vessels gets caught by the police, it’s an immediate death sentence for them, despite their innocence.

One of Kazen’s slaves is our 18-year-old heroine, Sandis, who’s been chafing under Kazen’s control and cruelties. Though she’s supposed to have total amnesia when Ireth, a fiery horse numina, possesses her, she has some vague recollections of events and feels a connection with Ireth. When Kazen does something particularly horrifying, Sandis finally musters up her courage and runs away. Her family is dead, but during her last outing with Kazen she saw the name of a person sharing her unusual last name. Sandis pins her hope on finding this Talbur Gwenwig, hoping he’s a long-lost relative who will protect her.

What Sandis finds instead is Rone, a twenty-something thief who has an ancient magical artifact, called an amarinth, that he can spin once every 24 hours, giving him protection for sixty seconds against any mortal wounds and, conveniently, healing any that he’s already gotten. When Sandis swipes the amarinth while Rone is protecting her against Kazen’s henchmen who are chasing her down, Rone’s and Sandis’s fates become tied together. Sandis also knows that Kazen is bent on summoning a far more dangerous demon, Kolosos, who might destroy their city of Dresberg. She’s not sure how to prevent him from doing this, but she wants to try, even if it means keeping her connection to Ireth.

I thought Smoke & Summons was an engaging novel, easy to read and get lost in, and teen readers who like dark magical fantasies with a romance subplot are likely to enjoy it. The plot has several weaknesses, though; the type that start to bother you once the excitement of reading the novel starts to wear off. I frequently wanted to shake Sandis and Rone, who occasionally make blindingly imprudent decisions. One that Sandis makes at the very end of the novel was the final straw for me, though Holmberg offers justification for her choice that may satisfy other readers. And once you cut through all the chasing (mostly by Kazen and his goons) and running around ― which takes up most of the story ― this novel feels like it’s mostly a long set-up for the next novels in the NUMINA TRILOGY.

Dresberg and the entire country of Kolingrad are a dirty, corrupt place, one that most people (except the wealthy and powerful) would love to escape from, were it not that the borders are so strictly controlled. Sandis and Rone are a fairly typical YA fiction couple, dancing around their attraction and having their relationship nearly torpedoed with misunderstandings and external pressures. Kazen and his “grafter” henchmen are entirely villainous, without nuances to make them more sympathetic or at least understandable. I’m of the opinion that Kazen isn’t the only numina summoner in Kolingrad. Perhaps that would an interesting way for the plot to develop in next books?

What I appreciated most in Smoke & Summons were some of the secondary characters and subplots, especially those involving Rone’s long-lost father (this was a memorable episode, fraught with emotion, and a hard message about self-serving choices) and his former mentor Arnae Kurtz. Rone’s relationship with and devotion to his rather saintly (and definitely long-suffering) mother also ends up playing a key role in the plot.

Smoke & Summons is a darker novel than I would have expected from Holmberg, though not as dark as some YA fantasies I’ve run across, and Holmberg does pull her punches with the sexual content, if not with violence and death. This novel has a killer cliffhanger at the end (the one with the aforementioned hard-to-swallow choice by Sandis). Overall, it’s an interesting story and world, and despite some shortcomings in the plot and characterizations, I’m interested in seeing what happens in the next book in this series.

I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher, 47North, and the publicist. Thank you!
Profile Image for Maria V. Snyder.
Author 76 books16.9k followers
April 30, 2018
I received this book well before it's release date in the hopes that I would give it a blurb for the cover. It's wonderful - it's action packed and the characters are empathetic. The unique world of dark wizards and creatures from another astral plane is fascinating. Put this book in your TBR pile, you won't be sorry!
Profile Image for Charlie Holmberg.
Author 39 books6,734 followers
Want to read
August 17, 2020
This entire series is out! The Numina trilogy is the biggest (and, IMO, the best) story I've ever written--I hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it.

Order the ebook, hardcover, paperback, and audiobook on Amazon: https://amzn.to/324r0ob

Or on Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2Q1IewO
Profile Image for Boostamonte Halvorsen.
534 reviews7 followers
January 21, 2019
This book bothered me for many reasons... but here are the main ones:

This book is a classic example of weak plot syndrome. Where the plot isn't really good so you fill the pages with chase scene after chase scene. And then, in the calmer spots, you get the woes of young love and the weakness of the main characters. Sandis is a super weak woman and a horrible role model for women (especially young women), IMO. She is the classic damsel in distress and never grows out of it. The only time she shows backbone is when she insists on running in a certain direction...but she is still running...even though she has immense power inside her. Maybe this is on purpose; maybe Charlie is setting it up so she can have a big moment where she finds her "power." But honestly, this book could have used that scene.

All the characters felt wooden and very "trope-y" None of them had any depth and I couldn't get into them at all.

Another thing that bothered me was the clunky writing. I mean, it was just clunky. Hard to explain, but it just felt odd.

Profile Image for Dee Arr.
734 reviews90 followers
January 1, 2019
None of the magical features of Charlie N. Holmberg’s “Smoke and Summons” overwhelm you, and that’s a good thing. We become aware of the illegal magic practiced and are also informed that there are rare magical artifacts. We are not allowed to see more than that, at least not at this time.

Which is okay, because it allows the story to revolve around Sandis, who is a vessel capable of becoming a temporary home of a demon. Her life is about to abruptly change, which is where the story begins. Her attempts to escape from her former captor ensnares Rone, who has enough problems without adding Sandis to the list. Both are seeking answers to their troubles while evading the ruthless people looking for them.

Ms. Holmberg slowly builds his world, allowing us only to see whatever Sandis and Rone are experiencing. This works well, eliminating the possibility of information dumps and keeping the book action-oriented. Tension is another underlying aspect of the plot, as the danger of capture lurks around every corner.

Though they are scantily fleshed out, there is enough description to cause us to care about Rone and Sandis. The villains in the story, both major and minor, are fairly one-dimensional. We can feel the essence of evil but not much else. As the story focus is not on the villains, this tends not to be too much of a factor.

Overall, this is a decent enough tale that I am considering taking the plunge and moving on to the second book. The author almost lost me as I believed the book would end with a cliffhanger. Thankfully, although the end was abrupt, the story did not finish with someone’s life on the line. Lighthearted at times, a slight breath of potential romance, and pages of action make this a solid four-star effort.
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,073 reviews2,635 followers
February 13, 2019
3 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2019/02/12/...

Smoke & Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg first caught my attention with its synopsis, but I became even more intrigued once I realized what I was looking at on the cover was the head of a fiery demon-like horse. The reason for this striking motif was soon revealed, as the story introduces readers to Sandis, who is no ordinary young woman. For one, she is a vessel, whose body is trained and primed to hold demon-like spirits called forth from the netherworld. She is also a slave of sorts, kept under lock and key by a cruel summoner named Kazen, who has captured a number of kids like Sandis for his nefarious purposes. And because what Kazen does is highly illegal, he operates underground in a top secret facility where he can hide his activities as well as keep his charges isolated and unaware of what’s going on in the outside world. This in essence is Sandis’ life, where all she does each day is keep her head down and obey the rules, as not to anger Kazen. After all, it’s painful enough what happens to her whenever he calls forth “her” demon, the fire horse Ireth, into her body.

But then one night, Sandis witnesses something at the facility that frightens her to her core, prompting her to leave immediately, escaping into the unfamiliar city. Her only hope is a name of an unknown relative she chanced to glimpse in Kazen’s records, perhaps a distant uncle who would recognize their kinship and protect her. Instead, Sandis finds Rone, a caddish thief who thought the poor lost girl would be easy prey to his charms. But to his surprise, it is actually Sandis who catches him off guard and ends up making off with something valuable of his: an extremely rare and powerful artifact called amarinth which grants its bearer immortality for one minute every day. To get it back, Rone tracks down Sandis, but then winds up getting swept along in her desperate attempt to escape Kazen and his minions. Understanding that the two of them need each other to survive, Sandis and Rone strike up a reluctant partnership. She needs to lie low until she can find her mysterious relative, and he’s hoping that the reward for helping her will earn him the money to free his mother from jail.

I’ll be honest, I think I would have enjoyed this book more had I not disliked the characters right off the bat. On the whole, Sandis was all right, even if her meekness sometimes bothered me—though at least this was in keeping with her background and history. Rone, on the other hand, was infinitely punchable and irritating. I despised his smugness and arrogance the moment he showed up on the page. He is also impulsive and shows an astounding lack of foresight and awareness of potential consequences. He has little consideration for others and barely ever thinks beyond his own self interests. It’s hard to feel bad for him when you know his own bad decisions are the cause of all his troubles. The reason he gets tangled up with Sandis is because he thought he could take advantage of her. The reason his mother is arrested is because she wound up being blamed for a crime he himself had committed. This guy thinks he has all these problems when, really, he is the problem, but of course, he’s too self-centered to realize it.

And the worst part? I don’t think Rone changed all that much. It would be one thing for an unlikeable character to redeem themselves throughout the course of a story, and though Rone did show some signs of turning around, when the moment of truth arrived in the second half of the novel, he completely blew the chance to prove himself and made me angry at him all over again. I’m glad I didn’t waste my sympathies on him, though I did feel bad for Sandis. There were times where I felt the author might have been hinting at an eventual romance for her two characters, but I was never really able to feel much of anything, let alone a spark of chemistry, between them. One reason for this is the power and knowledge imbalance where it seemed Rone always held all the cards despite Sandis being the one with the ability to channel a demon horse. He went freely about the world while she remained stashed away in some hidey hole as she always was, the naïve and innocent girl. The relationship had all the ingredients of one heading straight for trouble, but even when it turned out I was right, the confirmation brought little satisfaction.

But now, for the things I did like: without a doubt, the whole premise of summoning demons into human vessels was the most intriguing and memorable aspect of the book. There is an entire system involved in the process, from the blood sacrifices it requires to the permanent scars carved into a vessel’s flesh. Each individual vessel also has a power level associated with him or her, determining the strength of the demon that can be summoned. And then, there was Rone’s amarinth. As magical trinkets go, it doesn’t get much cooler or more imaginative than that, and reading about its effects immediately made me curious to know more about the object and others like it. Suffice it to say, a lot of hard work was put into developing the magic of this universe, given its layers upon layers of rich detail, and as a fantasy fan, I always delight discovering new and unique world-building.

Still, at the end of the day, I’m a “characters first” kind of reader, and admittedly, my loathing for one of the key characters most likely impacted my overall enjoyment of this novel. Still, I didn’t think Smoke & Summons was a bad book, despite having to put up with Rone, and I actually find myself curious to see how he and Sandis can move forward in the wake of the choices he made. Both are now changed from the experience, which should make the next book interesting.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 28 books5,681 followers
October 12, 2018
OoooOOOOOH! I got the chance to read this in advance, and wow! This is a seriously intense adventure with lots of twists and turns and high energy escapes! And creeeeeeepy magic! I would not normally pick up a book like this, and I feel like I should warn squeamish readers that there is, at one point, a lot of blood. Like, a LOT. But I really am gonna need the next one, because that was one heck of a cliffhanger ending!
Profile Image for Athena (OneReadingNurse).
734 reviews106 followers
September 24, 2021
I have some very exiting news regarding my author interview series ... I wonder what it could possibly be 😁😁😁

Well - I am screaming, and I don't usually scream at books. I was screaming at the audiobook then had to ditch it with 20% left to read faster.

I had never heard of this author but was looking for something to listen to on a drive this weekend, and I AM SO SHOCKED, so shocked at how amazing it is.

Rone gets himself into a shitload of trouble when he meets Sandis, who is on the run from quite literally her own personal hell. I love the characters, they are flawed but deep and believeable. Their friendship seemed special, with hints of more being a possibility in the future, and it was in such a real way that she interacted with him and appealed to Rone's good side.

The world is a dreadfully dirty city, crammed full of factories and people, horses and carriages, and what seems like early firearm production. The magic is occult, highly illegal, and dreadfully dark and cruel to those involved.

The craziest part was that towards the end I just couldn't put it down, despite that the book is nonstopped filled with action, the last 50 pages or so were INSANE. For a 47North published book as well, this was extremely well edited and well written.

The two narrators were great as well, they were very consistent and Scott Merriman really had the Rone drawl down to perfection.

If I had to come up with one bad thing to say, it is probably that I don't love cliffhangers. I would have had book 2 on speed dial anyway!

100% definitely recommend to any fans of fantasy, the occult, and fiery demon horses😍
Profile Image for Sade.
315 reviews224 followers
January 30, 2019

My journey to love Charlie Holmberg's work is not up to an auspicious start. While not necessarily a bad book, this book continually highlights that the YA genre takes little to no risks with their plot or characters. Granted this is better than one's i've read in recent years but honestly this could have been so so so so much better.

So rundown of my thoughts:

📌Little or no mention of this Numien mythology or whatever the heck their whole game in this is, just stringy basics. This Ireth creature that's on the cover of the book does very little in the grand scale of things. Also need..fire?? What was that supposed to signify? The basis of this book was supposed to be all about these mythical creatures but over 300 pages later and you're still no closer to figuring out anything.

📌This book felt like it was more about Rone (whose character i totally enjoyed by the way) than it was about Sandis. Sandis character was the equivalent of a potatoe and i get that she had been subservient for a long amount of time but did she have to have zero personality? The only thing she really did here was smile and thank Rone over and over and over again. She was so timid and it was frankly galling at times.

📌YA books continue to perpetuate this belief that two characters of the opposite sex cannot be in close vicinity with each other without developing strong emotional attachments that will lead to love. Never friendship always love. At this point, i'm strongly considering the angle that publishing houses or editors are forcing authors to always put in this angle because are you people not tired of making the female protagonists fall in love with the first guy they meet??

Not super impressed but at least it didn't completely fall my hand. As far as YA books go, it's actually not terrible.

Profile Image for Kinga.
479 reviews2,255 followers
April 24, 2021
If this title makes you think of “Shadow and Bone” (hey, hey, now available in its Netflix form), then that’s the correct association. It is a similar kind of world, though I think the heroine of Shadow and Bone was a little more interesting.

I have chosen this book from my monthly Prime Reading offering. I never expect too much from these books, but they do serve well as ‘beach/airplane’ reads (assuming, we will get to do those things again).

This was mostly a painless read with a plot that moved forward at an acceptable speed most of the time and kept me interested (not to the point of foregoing sleep, mind you). It’s your very classic story of a special girl, who doesn’t know how special and magical she is. A handsome boy falls in love with her, and bad guys are after her. At least it wasn’t insta-love.

This is not a criticism. I do go into books like these, expecting exactly that. But, of course, I wouldn’t be myself if I haven’t listed all my quibbles about it.

First of all, the two things the plot hinges on seem rather illogical to me. The magical ability that our heroine Sandis possesses is that she is an excellent vessel for some mythical otherworldly monsters, which can take control of her body and change her into the said monster (in Sandis’s case it’s a fiery horse of sorts). The monster is controlled by the main bad guy, who uses the monsters to threaten and extort people and other such things. The monster can burn or otherwise damage the poor individual. Now, the bad guy has a whole army of thugs at his disposal that would be able to perform these kinds of activities with ease, so I’m not sure why the bad guy resorts to such complicated and costly rituals. He imprisons a whole group of teenage kids, keeps them well fed and healthy, so that he can use them to threaten or even kill some people. Seems like an absurd business model.

Our heroine seems resigned to her fate, her spirit is broken and her entire family is dead. And there would be no story, if she hadn’t noticed in some bank ledger a listing of a person with her last name. As the last name is quite rare, she is convinced it’s some cousin or uncle of hers. For some bizarre reason she is convinced that if she can find this man, man she had never heard of before, man her parents never mentioned, then the dude will save and protect her from the main villain in town. So she decides to run away from her captivity which proves easy enough and starts her adventure. She meets a handsome boy and to him she also promises her mythical uncle’s help. I understand magical thinking in dire straits, the notion of hanging on to some illusion that would solve all your problems, but come on now.

Generally, the whole plot is running away from the bad guy who is always one step behind, and searching for the uncle all over the city. Sandis’s only motivation is her hope that her actions will lead to someone else saving her. Save yourself, girl! You’ve discovered you can summon and talk to your monster, for the love of god. Everyone will be afraid of you.

Other than that the author seems to have some gaps in her general knowledge, because that’s the only reason I can think as to why she named the city the action takes place Dresberg, and the country Dresberg is in – Kolingrad. For half the book, I couldn’t quite understand which city the action takes place in – Dresberg or Kolingrad, and had theories that maybe it’s two cities that have now merged into one etc. It just hadn’t occurred to me that Kolingrad could be a name of the whole country. The same way you wouldn’t think Kolinville or Kolintown is a country; -grad ending in Slavic languages denotes a town (you know, Belgrade, Kaliningrad, Stalingrad). Even if you don’t know any Slavic language, I would think it’s something people intuitively know. Apparently not. If you’re going to use other people’s cultures in your fantasy, just a minimum Wikipedia research, please. Also, the author called her oppressive Kolingrad’s government “Triumvirate” and I don’t think she knows what it means. Triumvirate is a political regime where the ruling is done by three people (or institutions), but who these three people/institutions are is never acknowledged or even alluded to, so I strongly suspect the author has just chosen this word because she liked the sound of it. (In the same way lots of fantasy novels nonsensically use the word ‘protectorate’).

My last point of this gentle rant is that it is again a fantasy book written by a very Christian American author and it SHOWS. American puritanical Christianity seems to have no problem with violence, guns or brutal murders, but god forbid someone had sex. Their obsession over “purity” and virginity is frankly unhealthy. So of course the magical rules of this world are such that the “vessels” can only be people who have never had sex. Sandis will lose her ability to host her fiery stallion if she loses her virginity. I don’t think I have to explain to anyone how toxic and absurd this virginity concept in our culture is and how toxic all these tales are, which promote this notion that three minutes of a magical male penis can so change the woman on a molecular level and rearrange her whole being that she would become a different person with different abilities. Please, for once and for all, let’s retire this ‘virgin with special powers’ trope. Let’s never publish another book with it. At least in this book, it’s both boys and girls that need to remain ‘pure’ and don’t even get me started on THAT word, let’s end this review here.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,512 reviews857 followers
May 31, 2020
Really enjoyed this! Demons can be summoned via a human vessel and used for evil. Sandis that vessel while Rone, a thief with a highly valuable ‘amarinth’ bumps into Sandis as she tries to escape her handler’s clutches. Great story, sweet romance- unfortunately gone wrong for now. Can’t wait to pick up the next in the series!
March 2, 2019
I started this with a lot of hope. The premise sounded awesome. It sounded like a Soul Eater thing but with mystical were-beasties. That is not what you get, but the premise is still interesting. That's the only good thing about the book.

Sardis -- the MC, Sardis, was written like a 10 year old trapped in an 18 year old body. Given the circumstances, it was completely and utterly unbelievable. Like, achingly so. This is a woman who lost both parents young, who worked at a factory for years, who's brother disappeared and presumably died, who was kidnapped by slavers, who was beaten and treated poorly in their care, who was then sold into this slavery situation where she's forcibly changed against her will, and she acts like a naive child the entire book.

For example, throughout the book, she hooked on the idea that, because she saw her last name in a ledger (and her last name is strange), that this person must be a relative and will save her. She's never met this man before. She didn't met him when her parents were alive. He wasn't there for her when she was an orphan or when her brother disappeared or when she became a slave or after, but she has this childish belief that this random stranger is family and (I quote) "Family is forever" so he'll of course save her from all the evil things.

She doesn't think about her actions at all. She never plans. She didn't even plan her escape. She just walked out. Half the book is just a reaction to her stupidity. Like, she knows she's being hunted but she does dumb shit all the fucking time. "Oh, this random kid wants to know all about me. I'll tell him all my plans." Guess who that kid was working for? "Oh, I'm safe in my hidey hole and no one knows I'm here, but I'm bored and hungry so I'll go wander outside." Guess who gets captured? "Oh, if my master ever finds out I remember things during the transformation, really bad things will happen." Guess who tells him that?

She also literally believes anything anyone tells her. Her old master, who recaptures her, feeds her a line a BS and she never questions it. She never questions anything this horrible, evil man tells her. She never questions anything anyone tells her.

The Romance -- was painful to me because I honestly pictured this character as 10 and the love interest is like 30. I was honestly glad when he because I felt she deserved it after all the shit she put him through from her stupidity.

The plot -- is nonexistent. It's basically Sardis is a slave and walks away. Her master isn't happy so he follows her. She finds Rone and he decides to drop everything in his life to save her (constantly), because he's the "nice guy". It's basically 300 pages of her being chased. This would've been okay if Sardis wasn't a fucking idiot or if there was time spent on learning to control her summon or magic. But, nope, it was just her getting chased with her mad desire to find this supposed uncle because "family is forever."

The plot inconsistencies -- drove me crazy. This was such laziness. These inconsistencies were changed because of the plot so you know she was just too lazy to go back and edit the story. For example, we are told like a thousand times that getting out of the city (and the country) is nearly impossible. You need papers, etc. So they get out (with papers, etc.) -- including a skit that she's pregnant and sick to gain sympathy and leniency from the guards, which they grant -- and not half a chapter later we're told it's very easy to go in and out of the city because (surprise) the author wants the characters to make a mad dash inside.

Or another part were we're told that the summoned creatures are invincible but the vessels can be hurt before the summoning and later we're told that whatever happens to summoned creature happens to the vessel. This was, of course, during a battle. Bleh.
Profile Image for Carol (StarAngel's Reviews) Allen.
1,683 reviews600 followers
June 21, 2019
Rereading to get ready for the 3rd book in the series!! WOO HOOO!

**4 1/2 Demon Stars**

update...take back what I said about the author being male...hahaha...sorry. I jumped the gun on that one before reading the authors profile.

I received this book as a First Read from Amazon and was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this story.

I normally am skeptical about male author's writing about female protagonist s but this author did a wonderful job of capturing true emotions and had me finishing this book rather quickly.

And the cliffhanger...? Wow...I can't wait until April when the next book in this series is released.

The beginning was a bit confusing but once everything started to fall into place, I zipped right through and couldn't wait to find out how everything was going to play out.

Fantastic job!
Profile Image for Crystal King.
Author 4 books442 followers
January 9, 2019
Loved loved this book. Read it in two nights and it left me bereft and desperate to be back in the world of Sandis and Rone. And what a cliffhanger at the end!

I'm in awe of how Holmberg's worldbuilding and ability to drag you deep into the hearts and emotions of her characters. Absolutely fantastic.
Profile Image for Isseya.
11 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2019
This book started off so well. A really interesting setup about demons being summoned into humans, about a man who could make himself invincible for a minute each day. It was all was so promising.

So why then do I have all this shit I need to rant about? Oh, that's right, because the beginning is the best part of the entire book. I'm just going to rant about the things that annoyed me now, because I need an outlet. Major spoilers ahead.

After the characters are set-up and our problems are put in place, the plot just stops... for like, half the book. Nothing at all meaningful happens for such a long period of time. The characters are chased and then get away. Then they are chased some more and then get away. Then, you guessed it, the characters are chased again, and again they get away.

Why you would ever fill your book with such a meaningless scenario over and over again is beyond me. Like, yes, they are on the run, but surely you could think of something else they could be doing for all this time, other than getting caught and escaping endlessly. It paints the villains as utterly incompetent, and the threat as completely non-existent because oh surprise, our heroes got away again, just like last time.

Not only is the villain incompetent, but our heroes are too apparently. The characters make the stupidest mistake of leaving the villain bleeding out at the end of the book, even though he's all alone and defenseless at the time instead of killing him outright, then, oh my god shock twist, he survived! DUN DUN DUN, WHO COULD HAVE POSSIBLY FORESEEN SUCH A THING!

Speaking of the villain, he's not even properly developed until the end of the book, so for the majority of the read, all we have to go on to think he's evil and a super bad person is a very short scene at the start of the book, where he burns a guy (doesn't kill him) for betraying him, which like... that's not exactly super evil, is it? It's not like he kills the guy and his whole family for the betrayal. And then, no joke, the same guy he burned even shows up later in the book, completely fine and out enjoying his night at a pub. The amount of absolute horror and panic that our characters show in the face of our villain is not at all proportional to what he's done.

One of the things that annoyed me most about this book though is that the main character, Sandis, is literally only religious when she's about to die. Like, I'm not kidding here, she only ever prays to God when she's in mortal danger. I only even found out she was meant to be religious in a throwaway line at the end of the book, when she refers to the god of the world as "her god". Considering the author is highly religious, which she mentions as a big part of her life in the thank you section, you would think this part of her main character would be more fleshed out. Sandis goes to a literal cathedral and doesn't even pray or think of her god once while she's there, like, are you kidding me? I'm not even religious, and this inconsistency with her character bothered me.

I could go into more things, like how Sandis notices that an item is fake when she sees it, and then later on when it's confirmed that it was a fake, she's like OMG REALLY WOW, as if she never even suspected it (where's your editor to pick up on these inconsistencies), but I'm just done with this book I think. Done talking about it, done thinking about it.

It's such a shame because this book started off so strongly, and then the rest felt so rushed and barely thought out that it was like I was reading a completely different book. I don't know what happened, if the author tried to get it published too quickly or they just didn't plan out the story very well or what, but the more and more I read the more and more I was letdown.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 7 books26 followers
January 15, 2019
One of the things I really loved about Holmberg's THE PAPER MAGICIAN was that, in addition to brilliant world building, Holmberg had created a really interesting female protagonist that was full of agency and continually striving to live in the world according to her own terms. It also told a complete story, one that could have been read as a standalone, but was enhanced as you moved forward in the series.

I was excited to read SMOKE AND SUMMONS for those reasons. But unfortunately, I was disappointed. While the world building is still stupendous (and I envy Holmberg's ability to create such a sense of mood and place), I found it difficult to connect with either Sandis or Rone, but especially not Sandis. By the very nature of her being a human vessel, Sandis becomes a character who is acted upon rather than one who has agency of her own, even though she has moments throughout the story where she makes choices and acts. The whole keep the vessel pure and virginal trope (even though that applied to males as well) rubs me the wrong way by reinforcing her as a beautiful vessel that needs to be protected even though she has access to this incredible power in the form of a numen. I'm not saying Sandis needs to have sex, but I yearn to read stories about characters who define for themselves what makes them truly valuable.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for me about this however, is an issue that often happens when the intent is a series. This was really about world building, and laying a foundation for what is to come, rather than telling a really solid story that fits into one book, but makes you want to read more. What draws me back into any series is a story well told, that I don't want to see end, not a story incompletely told that is only building up to a cliffhanger.

I truly wanted to love this book, because I find Holmberg such an interesting and talented writer. But, in the end, it was not a book for me. 3.5 stars (if I could do a .5)
Profile Image for Tressa (Wishful Endings).
1,731 reviews193 followers
February 26, 2019
4.5 Stars

SMOKE AND SUMMONS is a fantasy with both sharp and soft edges. There is plenty of grit as these characters traverse the poor conditions of their world, as well as the dangers many face among different groups, like the mob, the corrupt police, and the demon-summoning grafters. Throw in characters who are easy to cheer on, a little romance, and a desperate fight for survival and you definitely have a perfect read for fantasy and dystopian YA readers.

The author did a marvelous job of immersing me right from the beginning into this world and into the characters' lives. I love it when we, as readers, aren't dumped on with information and facts, or just told a story, but instead get to figure things out along with the characters and experience a story with them. It was so well handled and made the story that much more enjoyable.

I loved these characters! Sandis was amazing. She was this great mix of strength, intelligence, and naivete. She's a little mother hen, but she so wanted to be loved and find her own family. Rone was also a great character. He's faced betrayal and clings to the mother he has, trying his best to make a life for the two of them. He was clever, talented - at least as a thief, and had a good heart (even though he didn't want to). Rone and Sandis together were interesting and sweet and I really enjoyed how their relationship developed.

Then there was the plot... Goodness! This story had a constant feel of suspense and danger from beginning to end. I really liked that it was tempered with some sweet moments and some humor as well. There were also plenty of intense, scary moments. There were demons who posses individuals... I appreciated that there weren't really gory details. I also liked that there were parts where the author could have made things easier for these characters, or have things work out better, but she didn't. Nothing was easy. It made it feel more realistic and genuine. There were also some fabulous twists at the end. Book two can't come fast enough!

In the end, was it what I wished for? I thoroughly enjoyed this story! It was a crazy, intense ride with fabulous characters and great storytelling. I'm happily looking forward to more!

Content: Some mild swearing, non-descriptive mature references, innuendo, and violence.
Source: I received a complimentary eARC through NetGalley from the publisher via the Fantastic Flying Book Club, which did not require a positive review nor affect it in any way.
Profile Image for Diane.
113 reviews4 followers
January 13, 2019

This was a kindle first reads for January. Maybe this will appeal to a much more juvenile audience than myself?

Because this is classic YA paranormal schmaltz -- Girl (with exemplary powers even for her 'kind') can be possessed and used as a tool whether she likes it or not, girl miraculously ESCAPES and (right away!) meets a boy (with exemplary powers of his own), they -- this will shock you, i know! -- fall in love in two days, , spend time doubting their love, , etc. etc. etc. etc. been there done that.

And I'm okay with formulaic stuff but beyond the formula, this book is only okay. Definitely not bad, but not much more than okay. I don't regret reading it (especially for free!) but I won't be continuing on in the series because I just don't particularly care what happens to any of the characters**, or the world they live in.

**okay, maybe I'm a little interested in finding out what happens with Rone's mom but not interested enough to put up with the musings and questionable teen choices of the other characters.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews227 followers
December 28, 2020
Fair warning, this novella series is best read as a three-part novel.

In the horrible city of Dresberg there's a secret society of summoners. They use vessels, people with special abilities, specially prepared and trained, to summon numina from the astral plane into our world for their own use. Sandis is a vessel for Kazen, a truly evil old man that keeps his vessels as slaves. Sandis is also an extremely powerful vessel, being able to contain a powerful numina of fire called Ireth. Uniquely Sandis can remember the things that Ireth does when it replaces her body.

The thief Rone is hunting for a way out of Dresberg when he has an encounter with Sandis as she tries to escape Kazen. Rone has a magical item called an amarinth that allows him to become immortal for 60 seconds at a time every 24 hours, and in the brief time that Rone and Sandis meet, Sandis comes away with the amarinth, leaving Rone's plans in jeopardy.

This is a terrific start to an adventure fantasy series with a fascinating magic system and really interesting characters. What Sandis has survived in her life so far is amazing and she's still strong (although naive). Rone's devotion to his mother in the face of a betrayal by his father is terrific as well, and that whole small drama plays out interestingly over the three books.
Profile Image for Timothy Boyd.
6,655 reviews35 followers
May 6, 2019
Good entertaining read. Interesting use of magic for summoning. Nice world creation. Recommended
Profile Image for Lisa.
490 reviews54 followers
January 27, 2019
Charlie N. Holmberg writes just the type of books that I like, so I knew going into this one that there was a high chance of me loving it–and I’m happy to say that wound up being the case.

Smoke & Summons has some fantastic world-building. This book takes place in a city that was built on the ruins of an ancient city. There are artifacts and old magics left over from this old civilization, but most people don’t pay attention to that, they just go about living their lives. The place is crowded and filled with pollution, the air literally raining down sludge to the point that only the very rich can afford to have white buildings and keep them white. Status seems to be an important factor. The very wealthy can afford to do whatever they want because the justice system is completely corrupted and you can literally buy your way out of trouble. There is a jail that is so overcrowded that they regularly purge it’s prisoners in the form of execution–it’s definitely somewhere you don’t want to end up unless you have the means to bribe an official to get you out. Oh, and you can leave the city but you can’t just leave the country. You have to get special paperwork in order to leave and it’s very expensive and hard to come by, so most of the population is literally stuck there. I thought this aspect of the world was really intriguing and it also makes circumstances that much harder for our characters.

The magic in this was pretty cool too. There are a couple of different things going on here. First, there are many people in a the ‘underground’ who use illegal forms of magic, one of which is summoning, and one of the strongest of these people is Sandis’ master, Kazen. He has several slaves, most of them children, whose bodies are able to be used in a ritual where powerful beings from another plane are called to manifest in this world to do the summoner’s bidding. When the beings take over the vessels, the children, lose consciousness and they can’t remember anything when they come back to themselves, or any of the horrible things that they may have been forced to do. The other kind of magic is artifacts with magical properties that seem to be left over from the ancient civilization the city was built over. We get hints that these things are related, but that may be a mystery to be solved in later books.

The characters in this are great, but that’s not a surprise because characters are a strength of the author’s. I really loved Sandis. She’s a character that always tries to do the right thing and feels bad when she can’t do anything to help, even though her own circumstances are so bad. And, despite those circumstances, and all the bad things that have happened to her, she’s not completely devoid of hope. It would be so easy just to give up in a situation like that, but she keeps on pushing forward. Then we meet Rone–he’s a bit of a rascal. He doesn’t follow the rules, but he seems to have a good motivation behind his actions. When he and Sandis meet, he has a battle with himself on whether to help her out, but in the end his conscious wins out. Now Rone has two major problems he needs to solve. Rone is also more jaded and cynical than Sandis–it wasn’t hard at all for me to empathize with him. I really loved their relationship–the way their personalities brushed against one another made for an interesting dynamic. The way things played out was not at all what I expected, so kudos to the author for that! I’m keen on seeing what’s next for them.

I feel like Kazen is a nice step forward for Holmberg’s villains, which in the past I’ve found very mustache-twirly (that’s not a bad thing, but sometimes you do like to see a little more motive). Kazen is every bit a mad scientist of a dark wizard. He’s also a thug akin to something of a mob boss. He uses the beings/spirits from the astral plane to intimidate others in the city into falling in line with his plans and giving him whatever he wants. He’s powerful, has a ton of resources, and is absolutely ruthless in his pursuit of his plans. We don’t know exactly why he’s doing what he’s doing but we do at least find out what he’s up to eventually–and it’s something that has dire consequences not only for our protagonist as the strongest of his vessels, but also for the city if this power is able to be unleashed. He’s still mostly a one-dimensional villain, but at least there’s a little more depth to him than previous villains she’s written.

Overall, I had a great time reading this one and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. 4.5/5 stars.

Thanks to the folks at Wunderkind PR and 47North for sending me a copy for review purposes. This did not affect my review in any way.
Profile Image for Kali Cole.
345 reviews36 followers
February 20, 2019
A sinful creation and a cunning thief come together in this fantastical tale that is perfect for An Ember in the Ashes fans with vibes of Aladdin.

I loooooved this! This was an action packed, fantasy thrill ride that did not let me up for air! I was at the edge of my seat trying to keep track of everything and make sure that my main characters were safe! I know that this needs more story for sure because this book seemed to only be the beginning. The writing and the amount of detail was stunning and very engrossing. I definitely suggest this book for fantasy lovers and those who are in search of a magical thriller!
Profile Image for Lena.
1,152 reviews255 followers
April 29, 2019
Charlie Holmberg is my go to for light, happy, interesting fantasy with a little romance and action. This story was despair, filth, poverty, betrayal, and unrelenting sadness.

That is not what I wanted.
Profile Image for Racheli Zusiman.
1,519 reviews51 followers
March 15, 2020
מאכזב. אהבתי מאוד את סדרת "קוסמת הנייר" של הולמברג, אז רציתי לקרוא עוד ספרים שלה. הספר הזה הוא הראשון בטרילוגיית ספרי פנטזיה. סנדיס היא נערה שנחטפה על ידי אדם בשם קייזן שעוסק בדת פאגנית והופך צעירים לשמש ככלי קיבול למפלצות ושדים מיתולוגיים שונים, שהוא מזמן דרך גופם. היא בורחת ממנו ופוגשת את רון, שמנסה לעזור לה. לרון עצמו יש חיים לא פשוטים משלו. אמנם בסיס העלילה וגם העולם שבראה הולמברג בהחלט מסקרנים, אבל היה לי מאוד קשה לצלוח את הספר הזה. הכתיבה עמוסה, מעצבנת, ממש דחוסה. אנחנו מותקפים על ההתחלה במיליון פרטים ושמות (עם הגיה מעצבנת...), עוד לפני שהספקנו בכלל להבין מי ומה או להתרגל לדמויות. רון הוא דמות ממש נהדרת, את החלקים שלו מאוד אהבתי והייתי שמחה לקרוא עוד עליו, אבל סנדיס מעצבנת, ילדותית ותינוקית ברמות. לא הבנתי אותה, לא היה לי אכפת מגורלה בכלל, קראתי לה בשמות לאורך הקריאה והצדקתי את כל הדברים הרעים שקרו לה. הספר נגמר ב"קליף האנגר" וחובה להמשיך לספר הבא, אבל אני פשוט לא חושבת שאהיה מסוגלת לשרוד קריאת המשך על סנדיס המעצבנת. אפילו ברגעים המעטים שהתעלתה על עצמה, לא יכולתי לסבול את הקריאה של המחשבות שלה. ממש מבאס.
Profile Image for TJ.
2,788 reviews170 followers
August 13, 2022
Okay, this story is just as unique, creative and imaginative as any of Ms. Holmberg’s books can be. BUT… it reads like a high-octane suspense/thriller! Yes, it’s fantasy at it’s best but there is also so much non-stop, heart-thumping action! And the two combined make for an extremely interesting mix. It is also kind of dark.

The plot is one of an innocent girl who has been used in the most atrocious ways - not sexually - but with even more horrendous abuses (if that can even be). Her determination and strength to get away and make things right endears the reader to her immediately. The twists and turns are many and the emotions all over the place. It does end with a huge cliffhanger, however, and that is why I didn’t rate the story even higher, as the author could have ended it just a moment before. That would have kept readers interested and jonesing for the next book without kicking them in the teeth to make sure they purchase it.
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