Title: The Smoke Hunter
Author: Jacquelyn Benson
Format: Paperback & eBook, 448pgs
Published: Sept. 13, 2016 by Grand Central
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Wine Glasses
Frustrated suffragette and would-be archaeologist Ellie Mallory stumbles across a map to a city that shouldn't exist, a jungle metropolis alive and flourishing centuries after the Mayan civilization mysteriously collapsed. Discovering it would make her career, but Ellie isn't the only one after the prize. A disgraced professor and his ruthless handler are hot on her heels, willing to go any extreme to acquire the map for themselves.
To race them through the uncharted jungle, Ellie needs a guide. The only one with the expertise is maverick surveyor Adam Bates. But with his determination to nose his way into Ellie's many secrets, Bates is a dangerous partner.
As Ellie gets closer to her goal, she realizes it's not just her ambitions at stake. A powerful secret lies hidden in the heart of the city - and if it falls into the wrong hands, it could shake the very fate of the world.
With a thirst for knowledge and hunger for adventure in her soul, Ellie is severely handicapped by the time period, 1898. Even with a degree and top of her class, when it is found out that she is a suffragette, she is quickly sacked from her job in The Public Record Office but not before she commits one more act of defiance. When Dawson, a claimed archeologist and Jacobs, a man with predatory eyes, shows up at her home looking for a map and disk she took from the Office, she begins to think that maybe the treasure map is real and sees a chance to gain recognition in her field.
As a surveyor for the British Office, Adam has mapped the area around Belize City and knows the land. What he doesn't know is what exactly a woman like Ellie is doing here but when she asks for his help and presents a map that could lead to one of the greatest archeological finds of their time, he can't help but sign on.
Battling real human dangers and myths, Ellie and Adam find themselves on the adventure of a lifetime and might just end up with more than they ever bargained for.
With a feel of Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone, and especially The Mummy, The Smoke Hunter was a fun adventure read. The prologue starts us off in 1632 New Spain (Central America) with a friar being carried out of dungeons to a city in the throes of a small pox epidemic. The scene takes on a mystical feel as, we the reader, don't know if the friar is really seeing the things he is describing or if sickness has distorted his mind. It was an imaginative start and set-up for the rest of the story as we then jump to 1898 and our heroine.
Jailbird on Saturday, thief on Monday
Ellie was our bluestocking, struggling against the restraints to her sex, and bold heroine. Any women, who have ever been forced to step aside for a mediocre man to shine, will want to cheer her on. I liked her confidence in herself. She didn't sit and wait for Adam to do all the rescuing but showed her courage and knowledge as she shared in the saving duties. However, I did think that she was at times a bit immature and unnecessarily brusque to Adam as an over exaggeration in showing her independence. My biggest problem was Ellie's lying to Adam, it was excessively overdone in attempts to keep the angst and stretch their adventure out together but as the story and their relationship progressed, it became annoying.
He was falling for her. The sworn loner with a pathological fear of settling down---he, Adam Bates---was falling for the maddening woman. Head over ever-loving heels.
Our hero was a wonderful combination of tough and sweet, he gets the job done but with a gentlemanly air. He recognized Ellie's autonomy and intelligence but would never fail to place himself between her and danger. He had enough of a familial disapproval background and adventurous self-made man strength to make him intriguing, sexy, and fun to read about, if not wildly different from other like heroes in the genre.
"There will be plenty of time to finish what we've started once we're safe."
"Finish?" she echoed weakly, her brain still struggling to catch up.
"Oh, yeah," he replied, a dark and hungry note coming into his voice. "We're going to do a whole hell of a lot of finishing."
Ellie and Adam's building relationship was cute and sweet, those looking for bedroom payoffs will not find one here. Our couple found each other physically attractive but, with maybe a nod to the time period this takes place in, we only get kissing and making out. Of course, it could be the adventures that sometimes lead them to be covered in bat guano, too.
Because Death lives there. Death and the rest of the old gods. And he and his servants feast on the flesh of those who trespass in their realm.
The Central American locales which this takes place in, with the myths, legends, and scenery, made for a lively refreshing world, no ballrooms here. The author did a great job with mixing in real places and legends, with artistic license; why my 3.5 star rating rounds up to a 4. On the other hand, I feel that adventure stories should be faster paced than this one was. There didn't feel like much was happening in the beginning middle, the heroine lying to the hero that I talked about causing there to be no real building of their relationship and for them to have no advancement in their journey. The middle really sagged with one or two lies and a chunk of Ellie and Adam's solo adventure needing to be edited out. The last half and end picks up with some Indiana Jones' trials and mystical happenings, giving the story a bottom heavy feel.
Overall, I had fun reading The Smoke Hunter. When I saw this was a debut author, it made me even more excited because, while there is room for improvement in regards to character development and pacing, the bones are there. The ending we get is not a cliffhanger but there could definitely be more adventures on the horizon for our couple and I haven't forgotten about Ellie's bestfriend Constance heading to Egypt or her cousin Neil the adventurer who taught her some martial arts, whose stories I would be interesting in hearing. If you're a fan of the movies I mentioned or something along the lines of Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible, you'll want to pick up a copy of The Smoke Hunter. This new author has definitely caught my attention.