Elmore Leonard said: I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

The Smoke Thief, by Shana Abe

Ten minutes into this book (I was on the bus, bored) left me enthralled and excited, as I feel when I know I’ve got hours of great reading ahead of me.
“Imagine a place so ripe and thick with the promise of magic that the very air breathes in plumes of pearl and gray and smoky blue; that the trees bow with the weight of their heavy branches, dipping low to the ground, dropping needles and leaves into beds of perfume.”

Isn’t that pretty? Overwrought, yes, but pretty!

Clarissa Rue Hawthorne is a halfling. A member of the Drakon tribe, living in seclusion among the green hills of northern England, she is a perpetual outsider in this closely knit society - for her father was a mortal. The Drakons are a beautiful and mysterious breed, with the ability to shift from human to smoke to dragon and back again. There’s just one problem; only a dwindling number of males can Turn and no woman has for generations. Thus the tribe lives in fear of its own extinction.

From a young age, Clarissa has loved Christoff, son and heir of the tribe’s Alpha, the Marquess of Langford. She loves in vain, however, as Christoff - older, beautiful, bored - pays her scant attention, sowing his wild oats among the impressionable young women of the tribe.

And so Clarissa contrives the impossible - she escapes the tribe (runners are hunted down and brought back without fail) and contrives to make a life for herself in London. As the Smoke Thief, she steals the brightest, most dazzling of jewels from the highest echelons of society.

Years later, her fame has reached the ears of the tribe, most particularly the new Marquess of Langford, Christoff, or Kit. Using the famed Langford Diamond as bait, a trap is set for the Smoke Thief. It is only when Kit catches Clarissa that he realises the thief is a woman - and she is the only drakon female alive able to turn. This makes her the female Alpha and his mate.

From there, the story twists and turns, revolving around these compelling characters and their passionate, absorbing relationship.

I don’t think Abe strikes a wrong note throughout the book, sustaining elements of romance and fantasy and adventure in a very particular time and place (18th century England). Her writing is assured and poetic, her dialogue never jars. I gobbled up the book in one day and immediately went on-line to order the next. (To my disappointment, the third in the series is out next spring, not as Amazon claim in December).

What did I like? Everything! Kit - his golden hair and sleepy green eyes; an Alpha in the true sense, without resorting to the ass-holism so often synonymous with the term. He is the leader of his tribe, and this is an integral part of him; his duty to the tribe and the sacrifices he makes for its greater good have shaped him.

Clarissa (or Rue) is the perfect mate for Kit - strong, brave, loyal and smart. Her decisions are logical, her desire for freedom and autonomy real and valid - indeed, I was utterly indignant on her behalf when this freedom is threatened by the tribe. Often novels have heroines acting wildly out of character to serve the plot - didn’t happen here. Rue is great. My only quibble was with her great and unearthly beauty, but all drakon are beautiful, so I suppose I have to let that go.

The dragon aspect is well done. Abe skillfully avoids the cheesy and creates magical, wondrous creatures of beauty and grace. Rue and Kit’s first flight - more of a midnight chase - is high octane, thrilling, brutal.

What a wonderful surprise this book was. I haven’t read an A-story in months. Highly recommended!

(As an aside, there are some excellent reviews of this book out there, on the big wide web. I recommend Dear Author as one such place).

No comments: