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REVIEW: The Treasure Keeper by Shana Abe

Dear Ms. Abe,

055380685801lzzzzzzzI’ve been a fan of your drakon series since the first book, The Smoke Thief. I was one of those readers who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the paranormal romance revolution, but the drakon series are among the books that make me glad I finally (more ore less) succumbed. These stories combine romance with fantasy elements (a village in the heart of 18th century England whose residents can turn from human to smoke and from smoke to dragon) that I have never found to be too heavy-handed or overly detailed (I find the excessive world-building of some fantasy tiresome and confusing). I’ve also found your prose well above-average: lyrical without being purple or overblown.

The Treasure Keeper opens with the first entry into the journal of Zoe Lane, on her thirteenth birthday. Well, technically it opens with a prologue narrated by the mysterious dragon whose opaque commentary runs through these books, but the first chapter is Zoe’s journal entries from ages 13 through 29, with a postscript addressed to her twin Cerise, explaining why she is slipping away from Darkfrith – the drakon village – an action that will mark her as a “runner” and bring her to the attention of the Council that rules Darkfrith. The dragons of Darkfrith have maintained the secret of their unusual abilities by ruling their people with an iron hand (talon?). Those that flee are hunted down, returned and often executed to protect the entire clan.

Zoe, the village seamstress, is like most of the women of the clan – she does not have the ability to Turn. This ability apparently diminished and died out almost entirely in the centuries before the series begins – only male villagers can Turn to smoke and to dragon, with the exception of some of the female members of the Langford family, the ruling family of their tribe (the head of the drakon is called the Alpha – he is the hero of the first book in the series).

But Zoe does have other Gifts, as she discovers and recounts in her diary entries. She develops the ability to become invisible and to read the thoughts of those around her. Eventually she discovers that the dead call out to her, trapped in mirrors or behind glass, entreating her to help or avenge them.

Zoe does not reveal her Gifts to the village elders. This is one of the interesting aspects of the series, and one I recall discussing with Janine after reading The Smoke Thief. The Council and the Alpha can be ruthless in their efforts to protect Darkfrith. In addition to mercilessly tracking and killing runners, they will use whatever means at their disposal to ensure the safety and prosperity of the group as a whole. The wants of individuals, like Zoe in this book or Rue, the heroine of The Smoke Thief, are of little concern. I struggled with this when reading The Smoke Thief; I was sympathetic to Rue’s wishes for autonomy. Janine made a pretty good argument that the drakon of Darkfrith needed secrecy to survive, and secrecy required keeping a tight leash on the entire clan. The wants of individual members of the tribe had to come second to the best interests of the tribe as a whole in order for them to survive. I still didn’t like it, but I could understand it a bit better from that point of view.

Anyway, I’m digressing; Zoe, like Rue before, doesn’t wish to be a pawn of the Council, so she keeps her strange abilities to herself. Her journal details her early puppy love with Lord Rhys Langford, one of the sons of the Alpha. Ultimately, Zoe backs away from Rhys and the only appearances he makes in her journal in subsequent years are as an arrogant young lord she occasionally sees in the village. She begins a long and rather tepid engagement to Hayden James, another villager. It’s Hayden who motivates Zoe’s flight from Darkfrith. Over the past several books the dragons of Darkfrith have made a couple of startling discoveries: one, that they are not in fact the last of their kind, as they had previously thought, and two, that they are threatened by an ancient enemy – the sanf inimicus, a cult of human dragon-hunters.

Hayden has gone on a mission for the Council, and like other dragons sent before him (including Rhys), he has not returned and his whereabouts are not known. Zoe, who sees Hayden as her connection to a tribe that she has always felt slightly out of step with, is determined to use her Gifts to find him.

To that end, she travels to Paris, where she stays in the abandoned Tuleries Palace and finds herself haunted by a ghost that she fears is Hayden’s. I’m going to spoiler-bar the following out of intense spoiler-paranoia, even though this information is on the book’s description page on your website:

The “ghost” is Rhys. And he is not dead, though neither he nor Zoe realize this for over two-thirds of the book. This ended up being something of a problem for me as a reader.

Zoe and Rhys simply weren’t together enough in this book for me. I wouldn’t say I’m a reader who unequivocally dislikes separations between the hero and heroine, nor do I mind if a romance-fantasy hybrid is a bit stronger on the fantasy than on the romance. But something about the plot of The Treasure Keeper felt very unbalanced to me. There is the long opening chapter that skims over sixteen years of Zoe’s life. Then Zoe is in Paris, looking for Hayden and being haunted by ghosts. I honestly wasn’t sure for quite a while whether Rhys was the hero of the book – not because Hayden was so compelling (he really wasn’t), but simply because Rhys was not very present either in Zoe’s thoughts or as an actual character.

The action (and interaction between Zoe and Rhys) is packed into the last quarter of the book, for the most part, which contributed to the unbalanced feeling. Additionally, a villain emerges pretty much from nowhere in the last couple of chapters. While I appreciate that this is a continuing series, the revelation of the villain felt rather random, and as a result, I felt like I was supposed to care, but didn’t. Since this character will obviously be playing a part in future books, I think the unveiling would’ve done better to occur earlier in The Treasure Keeper, or be saved for the next book entirely. I don’t know, I just didn’t like the cliffhangery feel of this plot turn.

I liked Zoe and Rhys well enough. They could have been given more unique characterizations – Rhys is basically the carefree young aristocrat who has been rather abruptly and shockingly battered by life, whereas Zoe is the village girl who has never quite fit in and doesn’t realize that she’s stunningly beautiful. These are both cliches to be sure, but they are cliches I kind of like, and you leaven these characterizations with descriptions of those traits that all drakon share – they are beautiful and charismatic but also fierce and terrible. It is a bit thrilling to hear Zoe described as a “monster” by a thief she encounters in Chapter Two – I’m intrigued by the notion of beautiful monsters, which is what the drakon truly are.

Your prose is lovely as always, and well suited to fantasy, I think (I think of lyrical prose as being particularly appropriate for fantasy romance – maybe it’s the fairytale connection). Here’s a passage near the end, as Zoe and Rhys lie on the rooftop at Tuileries:

He seemed to run out of words. She watched him struggle in silence, a shadow-darkened man with enamel blue all around him, endless but for the birds that flew, and the clouds that swept in pale crystalline tiers, blown about the horizon.

I’m not usually a reader who complains about plot much, finding that strong prose and decent characterization usually hold my interest through any type of plot. But it took me over a week to finish The Treasure Keeper – not that long for me, as I’m a slowish reader, but it felt like longer. I can’t help but wish that the bones of the plot had been rearranged, because knowing that I liked the characters and the settings and the prose, I have little reason for not liking this book more than I did. All in all, it was still a B for me, and I do look forward to the next book in the series.

Best regards,

Jennie

This book can be purchased in hardcover from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

15 Comments

  1. DeeCee
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 14:20:47

    Great review, and I have to agree with you on the balance. It was very off kilter. I didn’t quite feel like I was reading a drakon book until almost the last chapter. I got an ARC of TTK back in December, and I remember thinking WTF a lot. I devoured the rest of the series, and just kind of felt disconnected from this one.

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  2. Catherine
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 14:22:18

    Your spoiler bar didn’t work. The spoiler information is in plain text like the rest of the review.

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  3. Jennie
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 14:51:54

    DeeCee, I’m glad (sort of!) that you had problems with the plotting as well. I so rarely have issues with plot in that way, I kept thinking about whether that was really my issue with the book or if I was missing something. (I mean, sometimes I have issues with plot developments, but this was more of a difference with the entire way the story was laid out.)

    Catherine, the spoiler bar is working for me. I’m not sure what the deal is there. Sorry! But as I said, it’s not a big spoiler; it appears on the book info page online and may be on the book jacket.

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  4. Catherine
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 14:58:07

    Don’t be sorry Jennie. I wasn’t pointing it out to complain. I had already seen the spoiler on another website. I restarted my browser and it’s working for me now. Very odd. I guess it was me and not you.

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  5. Jennie
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 15:05:16

    Ah, good. No, I’m just a little cautious because I never know what other readers might consider spoilers. Though I think the most spoiler-phobic generally just avoid reviews of books they plan to read until after they’ve read them.

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  6. DeeCee
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 16:18:26

    @ Jennie: I had difficulty almost from page 1 with the 16 years or journal stuff. I wanted to smack Zoe for being so steadfast for “the safe guy”, and being so cold (she just seemed to ice queenie for my taste-which sucks since I loved Queen of Dragons because of Maricara. The only parts of TTK that I liked was the glimpse into the the Langford family (would have been nice for more of those) and the ambiguous ending. I really like that creepy feel of the first and last chapters of the drakon series. I was hoping after I read it that I would appreciate it more, but nope.

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  7. Jennie
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 18:11:34

    Yeah, I think Abe does a good job with creating a certain atmosphere, especially with the unseen narrator chapters.

    I wasn’t too bothered by Zoe’s icy persona, but I didn’t love her, either. She could’ve been given more depth. I did kind of like her semi-indifference to Rhys, simply because you see that so rarely in a romance – usually the heroine is drawn to the hero No Matter What; that’s how the reader knows that it’s twu luv.

    In some ways this book felt like a bridge, meant to set up the action for future books, more than a fully realized romance.

    I feel like I should point out that even with my carping, I did give it a B. It’s just one of those books whose faults are more interesting to discuss than its virtues.

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  8. (Jān)
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 09:42:54

    Huh, how did I miss this coming out? I didn’t read most of the review since I didn’t want spoilers, but I’m looking forward to reading it after I finish the book. I loved the first two books because the prose was such a pleasure to read.

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  9. Kimber An
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 16:53:09

    Okay, I’m tempted. Gorgeous cover art too.

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  10. Jennie
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 17:55:55

    Yes, Abe seems to have scored a good cover artist for this series. I definitely think this is worth reading, especially for fans of the series (it might be a little confusing for people who haven’t read the other books, and I certainly don’t think it’s the best book to start with, anyway). I’m not sure if it’s worth hardcover prices, but that’s a decision readers have to make for themselves (I’ve never had much self-control in that regard – if I actively want to read a book, I’m willing enough – or impatient enough – to pay $25 for it. I’m such a sucker).

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  11. Janine
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 18:07:47

    @(Jān):

    Did you read the third book (Queen of Dragons) and not care for it as much, or did you miss that one as well? This is the fourth book.

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  12. Nicole
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 20:57:55

    I definitely agree with much of this critique. I hadn’t ever heard of this series before reading this book, so I don’t have the attachment to the series. From reading this book, I have no interest in reading any of the other books in the series. It felt to me that the whole book was simply a build up to the several sex scenes, and the the author became bored and finished the book by throwing in a random villian. It didn’t even feel like an ending. I feel like the plot had a lot of promise, but wasn’t developed well. I was very disappointed.

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  13. Jennie
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 17:36:31

    Nicole, while I understand you saying you’re not interested in reading other books in the series, if you do change you mind, you might not regret it (particularly if you liked Abe’s prose; I love it). The other books were much better developed and didn’t have the problems that brought this book down a bit for me.

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  14. Lydianna Hunter
    Dec 13, 2009 @ 00:23:05

    Actually, I find that TTK is my favorite in the series. The plot could have been stronger at spots, and the hidden villian was an unexpected twist, but I did enjoy what I thought was a strong but sensitive charaterization of Rhys. I’d loved him from Queen of Dragons; and I enjoyed seeing his charater developed further. Zoe could have been developed a bit better; I didn’t feel as strong a pull from her. Eagerly awaiting the fifth book; hope to get it for my next birthday. (Can’t wait to see who the main characters are; I’d love to know what’s happening with Rue/Kit; but at the same time, there’s a bit at the end of TTK that has me wondering….)

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  15. REVIEW: The Time Weaver by Shana Abe | Dear Author
    May 26, 2010 @ 17:14:16

    [...] I have been a big fan of your drakon series since reading the first book, The Smoke Thief. The most recent and fourth book, The Treasure Keeper, was really the first book in the series that disappointed me. The relationship between the hero and heroine was greatly hampered by the fact that the hero was (sort of) a ghost through most of the book, and I had some problems with the ending. Still, I did give the book a B. [...]

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