The Smoke Hunter, by Jacquelyn Benson, is an Indiana Jones style action adventure story with a fiesty, female protagonist. It begins in late nineteenth century Britain, when women were still denied the vote and expected to stay at home or work at menial tasks. Those who demanded intellectual respect, who suggested they were as capable as men, were accused of hysteria. Wives were chattels and the unmarried considered wives in waiting. Men enjoyed their privileges and were determined to retain their position.
Eleanora Mallory refused to conform to the supposed female ideal. Since childhood she had dreamed of becoming a field archaeologist. Despite graduating at the top of her university class the only job she could then attain was as an archivist in a civil service records office. Now she is about to lose even this. While waiting in her bosses office to be sacked she spots a book that looks out of place. Curious about why it should be there she steals it.
This action earns her the ire of a dangerous stranger. When Ellie opens the book and discovers a map to a legendary city alongside a mysterious artefact she decides to follow its trail and travels to Central America. She is unaware that her enemy is hot on her heels. To escape him she lies to a local map maker, Adam Bates, and together they embark on a quest through the jungle. What they find there has the potential to change the course of history.
The plot may be fantastical but it is also a lot of fun. The pace is fast moving throughout and there is plenty of humour, especially in the sparring between Ellie and Adam. Despite being a well brought up young lady, Ellie at no point loses her determination to be treated as an equal. She may not have a man’s strength, but her slightness and intuition can be used to her advantage.
Of course, the men struggle to accept that she is to be taken seriously.
“It was too dangerous for a lady. He couldn’t be at peace knowing he was putting a woman’s life at risk. Ellie wanted to retort that he did that every time he impregnated his wife”
This is not a story for those looking for realism but it is highly entertaining. The writing is fluid and accomplished; it is hard not to rush each page to find out what happens next. Ellie’s ruminations as she realises with horror that she is attracted to a man are amusing. It is unusual and pleasing that, despite having fallen in love, she retains her wits and resolve.
I do not normally go for stories that are close to something told before, but this book is such a rollicking read I am happy to recommend it. It is engaging, fun, and provides intrepid role models for both genders.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.