The Smoke Thief (The Drakon, book 1), by Shana Abe

I saw this book and the second (review forthcoming) in a bookstore recently on a shelf much too high for me to reach,┬áso I asked my husband to retrieve them for me, thinking, “I’ve seen someone recommend these recently.” Well, it turned out that it was one of the Ja(y)nes at Dear Author who recommended it, so not exactly something Ben would be interested in — but he read them anyway. Shana Abe, for those who are wondering, lives in Colorado, has five rescued house rabbits and a dog, and majored in drama in college.

Kit (Christoff Langford) is the Marquess of Langford and the head of the clan of drakon in England; the drakon are eldritch beings of long life and magical abilities including transformation to smoke or the form of a dragon. They hide in plain sight among the eighteenth-cenuty English ton, and there aren’t very many of them left — especially powerful ones. Clarissa Rue Hawthorne is half-drakon, half-human, and as such doesn’t fit in with the rest of the young women particularly well. When she disappears around her eighteenth birthday, no one searches very hard for her. However, when a thief in London is reported to be able to turn into a mist, Kit listens — and goes to investigate.

This is a romance novel, being that although there is a mystery/suspense plot and an interesting alternate-history-type setting, the entire basis of the book is the love story between the two main characters. It’s pretty intense; there’s a lot of love-at-first-sight and fated-for-each-other business going on. Neither of those is one of my favorite storylines, in particular, but once in a while it’s certainly worth being swept up in and taken along for a heck of a ride. I suspect I’m willing to suspend my disbelief a little more when there are non-human beings and historical settings involved, and both of those appear here. There’s also a good deal of chafing against predetermined roles and interpersonal drama that is the hallmark of certain types of historical romance, so readers familiar with that genre will feel at home.

The opening of the book is the legend of how the drakon came to be in England. For those of you who are not interested in Wheel of Time-esque epic-style openings, let me reassure you that although it starts like that, the rest of the book has the intimate space and close narrative expected in a romance novel, rather than a fantasy novel. For all that, though, the non-human-ness of the characters is a major factor in the romance plot as well as the mystery plot. It still retains its true fantasy nature in that sense; there is much exploration of the idea of what it means to be drakon, and how that can work with still remaining independent.

Regarding the setting, I didn’t feel as if it were particularly explored enough. An exact date was given — 1751 to start; 1763 later — but nothing, other than some brief mentions of fashion, was given to distinguish this time from a hundred years earlier or a hundred later. I fell into thinking it was the Regency most of the time, given that my standard historical-romance time period is the early 1800s, but it could almost as easily be the early- to mid-Victorian era. Given, this is a problem with a lot of romance novels and other lightly-historical-type books, but I would have liked to see a little more reason for giving an exact date and time.

Overall, it was quite an enjoyable book and an interesting start to a series. Romance-novel readers looking to dip into fantasy will find this an easy transition, and fantasy readers interested in romantic stories or perhaps looking for a crossover will find it a good read, as well. It’s a relatively short book — under 300 pages — and it reads at a fairly good clip. Those who are looking for a deep, epic fantasy of ideas with complicated plot twists aren’t going to find that here, despite the aforementioned opening, but those who are looking for a compelling love story with two strong-willed characters with rather cool abilities and a nondescript historically-English background will be pleased. 3.5/5 stars.

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