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ARC Review: Cities of Smoke and Starlight by Alli Earnest

Release Date: 4 May 2022

Rating: 4.5/5


Two lost souls. One dangerous mission.

Kase is a screw up, and when he takes the blame for nearly killing a fellow pilot, he faces serious charges. Seeking to clear his name, he flies a ragtag crew to establish trade with a hostile race and help his nation avoid the looming war. If only he didn’t have to work with the infuriating bookshop attendant who insulted him with Shakespeare…

After Hallie loses her bookshop job and the promise of school tuition, she’s desperate to avoid the ghosts of the past awaiting her return home. When offered a substantial sum to negotiate an alliance for her country, she says yes before the nice government agent can finish his sentence. Now if she could just ignore the ungrateful, arrogant prat of a pilot…

In a world of hoverships and crumbling First Earth artifacts, Hallie and Kase must accomplish the impossible: secure an alliance with an elusive, mystical race to help defend against a kingdom with dangerous technology and ancient magic. If they fail, the war will be lost before it even begins.

 Cities of Smoke and Starlight is a science fantasy novel perfect for fans of DunePride and Prejudice, and anyone who believed Rogue One needed a romantic subplot.



With her debut, Alli Earnest establishes herself as a new favorite author of mine, even though I don’t trust her one bit with my heart (this is a spoiler-free review) but will read her writing nevertheless, because it is so compelling to me and I’m a glutton for punishment. A breath of fresh air after too many disappointing reads, Cities of Smoke and Starlight made me excited to read again. It has a great balance of plot and dialogue, and the characters banter well together to keep the slow parts going and provide nice development. It also helped get me out of a reading slump. Much of what I’ve read this year has struggled to keep my attention. Earnest’s debut did not.

Hallie Walker is a poor but brilliant college student studying antiquities on the new planet the earthlings have landed on and made their way in after about a thousand years. She’s also late everywhere and scatterbrained because she has so much on her plate, and when she shows up late to work at a bookstore after many times of being given chances by her boss, she is let go from her job but still has to work through her last shift so she can earn one more day of wages. Understandably, this makes her grumpy, and this is the mood she’s in when the tall, handsome Kase Shackley walks in while wandering the town one evening. The two clash instantly because of the foul mood they’re both in, and the rest of the book is spent in joyful witness of their snarky banter.

I love the subtle and slowly growing attraction between Hallie and Kase —it feels authentic and is not instalove (I don’t mind instalove, really, as long as it’s not ridiculous). The book is more fun to read because they bring a dimension of comedy and entertainment that breaks up the monotony of the quest. Any good quest book, I feel, must have good character interaction. Within the larger group Kase and Hallie travel with, there is a camaraderie that both entertains and endears. I found myself quickly attached to all the characters.

Cities of Smoke and Starlight also packs some pretty intricate plot workings, though the foreground of the plot is a linear timeline, there are things going on in the background that weave themselves in quite smartly with the adventures and those who are on the mission to find the elusive advanced race and secure an alliance, as war looms between the humans and another group of inhabitants in Yalvara, and the humans desperately need the help of some radically hermitic beings in order to overcome a mutual conflict that could wipe out all of them.

What a delight to read. I can’t wait to have the physical copy on my bookshelf because oh, what a magnificent cover!

My sincere thanks to Alli Earnest for the eARC of this wonderful book, for which I give my own, honest opinion.

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