The Smoke Thief, by Shana Abe

I have strong feelings about romance novels. I like stories that don't expect me to buy that the hero and heroine have fallen into deep, everlasting love in a matter of days, stories where the sexual relationship isn't forced or coerced, and, above all, stories set after 1800, where I feel like all the characters are more likely to routinely bathe. Shana Abé's The Smoke Thief is none of these things, so I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

In 1751 London, high society is beset by a series of mysterious jewel thefts. The culprit is Rue Hawthorne, who has an unfair advantage as a thief: she's secretly a drakon, a supernatural being with the ability to shift between human, dragon, and smoke forms. Rue has been hiding from her fellow drakon for nearly a decade, but when Christoff, the drakon leader, realizes there's a powerful female drakon disguising herself in London, nothing will stop him from hunting her down.

I still object to all the stuff I mentioned in the opening paragraph, but The Smoke Thief mitigates most of my complaints. While Rue and Christoff do tumble into “true love” over the course of a week or two, they at least knew each other as children. I was creeped out by the hero's offer to the heroine (a charming choice between “seduction or rape”), but by emphasizing both characters' otherworldly nature, Abé frames their hookup as a outside-of-their-control biological imperative. And making them both dragons even helped with the bathing thing—I was able to blithely assume that supernatural creatures have some innate resistance to body odor, terrible teeth, and lice-ridden wigs.

Plus, The Smoke Thief features several of my favorite romance novel elements. The feisty, independent heroine is, y'know, actually feisty and independent. (This is more rare than you'd think—heroines are frequently condemned/praised for their headstrong natures, even as they continually submit to their love interests' whims.) There are interesting background characters, and Abé's world-building skills are top-notch. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the additional books in the series, and I'm going to check out Abe's new YA books as well—which, I was delighted to note, are set in 1915, so I can expect not only routine bathing, but toothpaste, too!
Posted by: Julianka


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