The year is 1898. Ellie Mallory discovers a map in a pile of uncatalogued books in the public records office. With it, a note from a monk who supposedly found a city full of riches, deep in the jungles of South America. Determined to prove her name in a field which does not welcome women, Ellie knows if it is true, it will make her career. But how on earth is a single woman supposed to get herself to British Honduras?

What a fun book! I try to avoid comparisons but it’s hard to say this isn’t a bit like Indiana Jones, but with a suffragette in the staring role (OK, maybe she meets an Indiana type figure too). The tone also reminds me a little of Gail Carriger, so don’t expect some serious historical fiction and you’ll be on the right track.

That a woman – a young, unmarried woman – would voyage to a remote and dangerous colony, apparently intent upon trekking alone to an unknown location in the deep jungle, would never have occurred to him.

Ellie is just as clever and educated, if not more so, than her male peers but she is stuck doing a menial task in the public records office. That’s until she’s arrested for chaining herself to the gates of parliament. Determined that marriage is not the only option left, Ellie “borrows” a book, hiding within it a map and artifact, that she sure won’t be missed. Perhaps it is just a very old hoax but there’s a glimmer of hope that it could be the location of a lost city, maybe the legend of El Dorado. Turns out the book was missed and there’s some rather unsavoury people wanting it back.

Archaeology is her dream and she ends off half way round the world, by herself, heading off into the jungle, over rapids, chased by boar and a host of other dangers. All in the company of an insufferable man. Yet a man with vast knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, Mayan and Aztec civilisations.

She had long ago ceased to notice the rich color and strange beauty of the world they moved through, her entire awareness instead taken up with the effort of putting one foot in front of the other.

If you like to try a sample of a book before you commit, I would make sure you read more than the first chapter because it’s not very representative of the overall tone. I was a bit skeptical at first but once I met Ellie I was hooked.

Victorian treasure hunters were notorious for lack of respect to the indigenous people and it’s good to see this covered in a book that otherwise isn’t too concerned with being serious. Adam chooses not to return and excavate a site because it is clear to him it is still being used. Ellie is used to being dismissed because of her gender, so she is keen not to do the same to people because of their race. She has a thirst for knowledge but not if it mean trampling over the lives of innocent people. However many people around them are racist and sexist, in keeping with the era.

The Smoke Hunter is published by Headline and is available now in paperback and ebook editions (ebook version currently being only 99p). Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.