Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu is a fun romantic thriller. It exists purely for entertainment and distraction purposes, and I am okay with that. There is little character development and a simple plot, but it reads like the most engaging movie you will ever watch. The interactions between the main characters are priceless, and the action is impressive. For sheer entertainment alone, Stars and Smoke rates high.
Spy stories are always fun with the gadgets and the sleights of hand necessary to trick people, and Ms. Lu makes sure to include plenty of devices for her two spies. Then there is all the sneaking, hidden rooms, and danger. And secrets. Lots and lots of secrets. While the plot may be a tad predictable, the story itself is too much fun for the predictability to become an issue.
Meanwhile, Winter and Sydney are a terrific pairing. Winter is sexy as hell with his natural grace and ability to charm everyone he meets. Sydney is the curmudgeon, and I love her for that. While Winter has some of the best lines, I adore Sydney for distrusting others and putting the mission first. It is an attitude I understand and respect.
I like how Ms. Lu left the end open for potential sequels, as I would love to see more of Winter. However, a sequel would not be half as entertaining without the romantic tension and the will-they-or-won’t-they aspect of Winter’s and Sydney’s relationship. While a sequel, if done correctly, would be fun, because the world of spycraft is always fun when observed from the safety of your home, leaving Stars and Smoke as a standalone novel is perfectly okay. There is enough to love within its pages to satisfy the pickiest reader.