The Smoke Thief
Shana Abe’s lush historicals often feature strong Alpha heroes and couples in conflict – this story is no different. However, Abe’s latest tale crosses a line that many readers may find uncomfortable. Indeed, instead of a romance, it seemed to me that I was reading the story of the destruction of a rare and beautiful creature by a man who wishes to possess her instead of loving her. Instead of entertaining me, it rather depressed me.
Abe sets her story among the dra’kon, a race of fantastical creatures who manage to pass as human in Georgian society. Her initial idea is interesting, and the legend she uses to frame her story draws the reader in right away. As Abe moves from legend to the Georgian setting of her story, we meet Clarissa Rue Hawthorne, a dra’kon halfling who can never feel fully accepted by either race. Though raised among the dra’kon in the remote shire where they live, she is made to live as an outcast in their society and, since humans are largely unaware of the dra’kon among them, Clarissa must guard herself carefully so that her secret is never discovered.
When a series of jewel thefts confounds London society, Christoff( Kit), Marquess of Langford, knows that the thief must be a dra’kon. When he sets off for London to find the thief and meets Clarissa, Kit decides that she must be his and sets out to prove this. However, rather than courting Clarissa, he tries to force her by using the frankly brutal laws of the dra’kon. It is at this point that the book becomes dark as Kit uses all forms of coercion, deceit, and false bargaining to gain his bride. If these sorts of tactics strike you as romantic, then perhaps you will like the book better than I did.
Abe’s prose is beautiful, and lovely, independent Clarissa is an engaging heroine. Because I liked Clarissa and because the writing style was so enchanting, I wanted to like this book very much. However, the harsh and at times unbelievable world of the dra’kon, as well as the extreme cruelty of Kit, made this impossible for me. While heroes behaving badly and then repenting can make for an effective and emotional story, Kit never really seems to catch on sufficiently to the fact that what he does to Clarissa is cruel and wrong on many levels. Instead of sighing with happiness at the end of the story, I found myself closing the book wracked with worry over the manipulation Clarissa might suffer in the future and wondering if her spirit had been utterly crushed.
While Abe presents readers with an interesting frame for her story and an unusual heroine, this book simply does not work as a romance. The story is well-written, but I just cannot enjoy a clearly wrought portrait of brutality and manipulation altering the life of a heroine I like. Those with a higher tolerance for super-Alpha males may enjoy this tale, but it just did not ring true as a romance for me.