Shana Abé – “The Smoke Thief”

27 Dec

GENRE: Romance / Paranormal
PUBLISHED: Bantam Books, 2006

The back blurb:
“In this bewitching novel, Shana Abé transports us to an exhilarating world of romance, adventure, and magic. Here, among northern England’s misted hills, live a race of extraordinarily beautiful and sensual beings with the ability to shape-shift from human to dragon and back again. Now their secret- and their survival – is threatened by two forbidden lovers … and a passion that will break every boundary. Dubbed the Smoke Thief for a series of daring jewel thefts, Clarissa Rue Hawthrone didn’t expect the drakón leader himself to come to London dangling the tribe’s most valuable jewel as bait: the Langford Diamond. But Christoff, the charismatic Marquess of Langford, had to catch Clarissa before anyone else did – or risk exposing the entire clan to the world of ordinary mortals. He never expected that the outcast halfling he pursued would have a proposition of her own to save the drakón – a proposition so dangerous, so tempting, that Christoff will find it impossible to resist: to join forces with her.”

Shana Abé’s The Smoke Thief is a beautiful, sometimes even magical written novel. There’s no doubt about that. It’s the story and, to a lesser degree, the characters, I have problems with.

It wasn’t far into the story that I started to question all and everything. Were there really that much newspapers around in the middle of the 18th century? Would guards carry pistols then? Did they really have tins of porridge? – Answers? Probably; I wouldn’t know; I don’t think so. The problem here is not that these things might be anachronistic, the problem is that I started to think about them and questioned them. That’s a strong indication that despite the beautiful writing I didn’t really connect with the story and the characters. It probably started in chapter two which opened with a POV character who wasn’t really important for the story and after this short scene never was a POV character again (this also happens with other characters later). This always tends to pull me out of the story because I see it as “weak” writing.

Then I didn’t really connect with the characters and I think that’s mostly because they did things I thought rather stupid and which seemed motivated more by plot reasons than other things. For example, Kit knows about the danger of falling ill (as a drakón) and he goes hunting a runner while having a serious infection when there is no real urgency to catch the runner right this moment? Not that bright even if he wants to show how manly he is. And Rue? Why did she keep stealing such high-profil gems? Why did she do it in a way that was sure to attract attention? Why did she go to a exhibition knowing it was a trap? There’s no explanation given for the last question and I got the impression that she she went there just to get captured. The ‘it’s the call of the gems’ explanation sadly didn’t do it for me.

I didn’t think the romance between the main characters very compelling. Kit was obviously captivated by Rue, so that and his ‘alpha-ness’ excuses some of his questionable behaviour, but even with that in mind, I thought their first love scene questionable. Rue was obviously infatuated with Kit from her time as a teenager. But how did that translate into adult/mature love? But then, I think it’s better to read The Smoke Thief as a fantasy novel rather than as a straight romance so the romance is not the deciding element. For a fantasy novel, it’s the story that’s more important.

And there’s the next “problem” because even if read as a romance, the story of The Smoke Thief is a bit thin. And for a fantasy novel, it was too much a “and then, and then, and then” novel for my taste. First we have the long (and really wonderfully written prologue), then it’s Rue’s capture, then it’s the search for the Langford Diamond, then it’s Kit’s illness, then it’s the capture of the second runner, and then the story ends. I missed some sense of unity, of what’s keeping the things together. And, as stated above, the romance didn’t deliver this for me. A few sentences here and there would have helped to make it more connected.

So, what kept me reading were not the characters (romance not compelling enough), nor the story (not interesting enough), but the language. For me, The Smoke Thief was at its best when it turned to world building, using really evocative language to do so. The Prologue is a good example for that.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Maybe.

Grade: 3,5 / 5


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