Review: The Smoke-Scented Girl
Evon is a recent graduate of magic school, and his high marks earned him a prestigious job at a big-name magic cooperative where he creates new spells that earn the business money. Despite the prestige, he can’t help but feel like his life isn’t headed in the direction that would truly make him happy. Until one day his friend Piercy, who works for the government, brings him a riddle that begs to be solved: a mysterious pattern of burned-out houses around the country Dalanine.
They go off in search of what they believe is a new, powerful fire spell that could change the course of the war that threatens the border of their country–also knowing the consequences if they don’t find it.
What they find is something unexpected: a young woman who bears a curse that seeks out black-hearted individuals and pronounces judgment on them with a fiery death. Unfortunately for Kerensa, she has no control of the fire, and any attempt on her part to delay the conflagration results in the deaths of innocents. It takes time for Evon and Piercy to convince her that they want to help her, and when she finally agrees to cooperate, Evon discovers a magical mystery even greater than the one it took to find her.
THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL is Melissa McShane’s newest novel, and it’s set in a kind of Victorian-Harry-Potter where magic is a part of everyday living. The story is about the magic, how it works, even some of its history. We’re introduced to the mystery of the Kerensa’s curse and watch Evon as he unfolds it bit by bit. McShane handles these unfolding details with finesse without any infodumps or pauses in the pacing. There are carriages, swords, magic spells, inns, some tongue-twisting names, and all other sorts of the more traditional fantasy setting details. The setting isn’t groundbreaking, and the threat of invasion by a Despot doesn’t feel as immediate as it could. But the focus here is on how this particular magical mystery is solved, which I found fascinating–much like how we learn about the magic through the mystery in Carol Berg’s THE SPIRIT LENS.
Other than the prologue, Evon is our PoV narrator. He’s brilliant with magic, often to the detriment of his own health because he becomes easily obsessed in the riddle of how it works. He can be pretty single-minded in his objectives, but thank goodness he has his friend Piercy to keep him from over-extending himself. Piercy also reminds me of a character in THE SPIRIT LENS, Illario, whose sometimes foppish exterior hides a very capable man beneath. Unlike Illario (who is one of my favorite characters to read), Piercy’s character doesn’t go deeper than the superficial. There are other secondary characters with their quirks, although some felt like they were there only to thwart Evon’s purposes. It’s Kerensa’s role in Evon’s life that becomes the big player here as he at first admires her beauty, but then comes to appreciate her fortitude, kind-heartedness, and spirit.
Yes, this is a love story. Just warning you guys out there.
That is when Evon’s obsession to unravel the magical mystery becomes a race across Dalanine to save the woman he loves. Yes it gets mushy. But it’s sweet and adorable and you can’t help but root for Evon and Kerensa as they attempt to overcome what seems impossible odds.
THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL has a lot going for it, especially for you parents of teenage girls who are looking for clean, romantic stories for your daughters to read. Maybe she’s a fan of the Harry Potter books and has since grown up and is looking for something new. This would be for her.
Recommended Age: 14+
Violence: Some, but not gory
Sex: References are mostly vague
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