Smoke Eaters has a fairly basic premise: firefighters vs. dragons. Going in, it looks like Reign of Fire mixed with Fire Force with a dash of Syfy Channel Original. The story is set a few hundred years in the future, so there is some future-tech like holograms and robots. A few years prior, dragons started emerging from underground to attack people and burn stuff down. This caused vast changes in world governments, causing the U.S. to collapse into city-states and keeping communities mostly isolated. Despite all this, everyday life seems to function about the same as it does for most people today.
Protagonist Cole Brannigan is a firefighter on the cusp of retirement when he inadvertently discovers he is one of the few people with a genetic immunity to smoke inhalation. This gets him forcibly recruited into the anti-dragon task force, the Smoke Eaters. Having an older protagonist in a story like this made Brannigan pretty unusual. Like many older people, he is very set in his ways. So, he bumps heads with his new team when suddenly going from near-retiree to new rookie. That being said, he does have enough plot armor to always land on his feet as the story progresses.
Now let’s talk about tropes. Being a mix between fantasy and sci-fi themes, Smoke Eaters is full of tropes. Dragons are obviously the big one. But the future setting also gives us power armor, ray guns, laser swords, military robots, and more. We also get generic action-story elements like corrupt government officials and evil businessmen. There is a lot going on in this book and it is really hard to tell whether it is more sci-fi than fantasy or vice versa. But it is enough of an action story that worrying about asking “why?” is probably not something readers need to be doing here.
It would be overexaggerating to say this book does not have a plot. But there are a lot of concepts, including the state of society, that readers need to just take for granted. It is a post-apocalyptic setting, so just roll with it. Smoke Eaters is the type of book you read when you just want to kill an afternoon with something fun. Not because you are trying to analyze a great work of literature. This is the just-for-fun type of grimdark, not the gritty variety. Now let’s get a made-for-TV movie adaption!