Melissa McShane is the author of more than forty fantasy novels, including Burning Bright, first in The Extraordinaries series; The Book of Secrets, first book of The Last Oracle; and the Crown of Tremontane fantasy series, beginning with Pretender to the Crown. She lives in the shadow of the mountains of the West with her husband, children, three very needy cats, and a library that has finally overflowed its bounds, which means she needs more bookcases.

The Smoke-Scented Girl by Melissa McShane

Evon Lorantis, magician-inventor of spells for his country's defense against the power-mad Despot, is stumped by the mystery the government brings him: a rash of spontaneously occurring fires, hotter than any natural force can produce, melting stone and vaporizing flesh wherever they strike. The government believes it is a weapon that will finally defeat the Despot. And they want Evon to harness it.

In investigating the problem, Evon discovers these fires are no accident. He sets off on a journey across Dalanine to track down the rogue magician behind the fires, hoping to persuade her to turn aside from her vigilante crusade to serve her country. But the woman he finds is nothing like he expected.

As Evon attempts to untangle fact from myth, what began as an assignment becomes a challenge that will require every ounce of magical ability he has—and will irrevocably change the course of his life.


In Melissa McShane's The Smoke-Scented Girl, promising young magician Evon Lorantis is stumped by a mystery: a rash of spontaneously occurring fires, hotter than any natural force can produce. He tracks down the rogue magician behind the fires...a woman using magic to prosecute justice on her own terms. – Jamie Ferguson



  • "Thoroughly enjoyable romantic fantasy mystery. . . another winner like this, and she goes on my automatic buy list."

    – Sherwood Smith
  • "I don't pass out five star ratings lightly. But this fantasy intrigued me, amused me, and put me in a metaphorical headlock and forced me to spend way too much time reading it today."

    – Tadiana, reviewer for
  • "This is another great book by Melissa McShane! I'm looking forward to her next one!!"

    – Shash, Goodreads reviewer



Evon watched his footing carefully, avoiding the deep ruts filled with icy slush and the occasional pile of half-frozen animal waste. Villagers stopped to stare at him as he passed, and he nodded at them, though he wasn't sure how friendly he looked, what with how hard he was concentrating on not falling. They did look as if they were accustomed to strange gents from the city wandering around their village. Evon sidestepped a particularly large turd and glanced around. He had walked nearly half the length of the village and passed half a dozen depressed houses. He felt a little depressed himself, looking at them. He hadn't realized how much a creature of the city he was until that moment.

He nodded again, this time at an elderly couple who were walking toward the tavern, hand in hand, and felt unexpectedly jealous. When this was all over, he was going to take a leave of absence—he was certainly owed one—and go to the theater, and the menagerie, and the Royal Gardens, with…his imagination stuttered to a halt. It had been six years since graduation; all the young women he'd known at school had returned home, or gotten married, or any number of things that put them beyond his reach. He drew in a deep breath of frozen air that tasted of snow and mutton, and moved on. It could wait until later. Right now, he had a mystery magician to find. About a hundred feet ahead he saw winter-dead yellow grass give way to blackened turf, and shortly he stood before what was left of Fullanter's house.

It hadn't burned entirely. The outer walls, made of large river stones, still stood, though the roof was gone and the wall over the doorframe had collapsed, leaving a fall of stones for Evon to step over. Inside, the packed dirt floor was black with char that stirred as Evon walked through, sending up a bitter smell of old fire and dead earth. If Fullanter had owned any furnishings, they hadn't survived the fire. Snow drifted shallowly against the inner corners of the cottage, clean and white against the burned stones.

The cottage had originally been bisected by another stone wall. Now that wall lay in a heap in the center of the cottage, not a heap of stones but a pile of what looked like fossilized mud. Evon touched it with his finger. It felt like cold stone, exactly as it should, except stone wasn't supposed to flow like water. He crouched so his eyes were level with its top and examined it. It looked a little glossy, as if it had been polished, and the grain seemed finer than that of the stones in the wall. He laid his palm against it, not sure what he expected, but nothing happened. It might as well have been sculpted into this bizarre shape.

Evon stood and brushed his hands off on his coat, then reached into his inner pocket and pulled out a quizzing glass with a smooth brass handle. He'd scratched runes along the frame of the lens, which gave it a seedy look, but Evon didn't carry it to show off. He polished the lens with the lining of his waistcoat, then passed his open palm across the glittering crystal and said, "Epiria," and held it to his eye.

He was nearly blinded by the glow of residual magic the glass revealed. Blinking hard to keep from tearing up, he turned away and looked at the stone pile from the corner of his eye until his vision adjusted and he could see clearly. Even then, it was almost too bright to bear. The revelation spell showed the remnants of the fire spell as flying, twisting ribbons of blue-white light that left afterimages printed on Evon's eyes. Runes scrawled up and down the ribbons, as blindingly dark as the ribbons were light. He leaned in to examine one more closely and it drifted away, as if, impossibly, it was aware of his interest. No matter how he approached, the memory of the spell stayed just far enough away that he couldn't make out the runes. After a few failed attempts, Evon stepped back to look at the spell as a whole, and realized it had a larger pattern.

The twining ribbons outlined two human figures, one much taller than the other. The taller one reached out toward the shorter one with both arms, the shorter one raised its hand above its head, then both dissolved into fluttering ribbons of light only to come back together and repeat the strange dance. Evon watched the little scene play out a few times, then lowered the quizzing glass and said, "Desini." Two people, present at the center of the extraordinary spell. They had to be Fullanter and the Fearsome Firemage. Standing in the wreckage of Fullanter's cottage, surrounded by the remnants of the most powerful fire Evon had ever heard of, the whimsical name didn't seem so funny. He tucked the quizzing glass back into his pocket and dusted his hands again, though they weren't dirty, and licked his lips against the dry taste epiria had left in his mouth.

He breathed shallowly, inhaling the scent of char and snow and, distantly, someone's dinner. He had no idea if this next part would work. He'd worked it out by candlelight the last two nights while Piercy muttered in his sleep, scribbling notes and crossing them out and sketching the shape of a spell he wasn't sure was even possible. Tracking someone when you had a piece of them, a hair or a drop of blood, that was a commonplace. His quarry hadn't left anything like that behind. But she had left something else, if Evon could manage to find it. If it even remained here. If the spell worked.

He chalked a rune on the back of his left hand, then closed his eyes and let his mind wander. The bitter brown scent of burned earth. The clear crystal smell of snow melting. Mutton boiling over a fire, cold damp stone like ancient caverns. He pinched his nostrils shut with his left hand, pressed down on his eyelids with his right, and whispered, "Olficio."

Even with his fingers clamped over his nose, the raucous clamoring of a thousand odors made him stagger. There was a river—he remembered their coach passing over it—a quarter of a mile away, and he could smell the water rushing past its banks, throwing up the rougher scent of the rocks it wore away at. The nearer smell of mutton drilled into his lips and tongue, warring with the bitter coffee flavor of olficio and making him want to vomit. He swallowed hard and kept his eyes shut. Trees with green sap flowing through their veins waiting patiently for spring. The sharp musk of a fox in its den. And somewhere, in all of this olfactory noise, a scent that didn't belong.

He became gradually aware of a more human smell, the noxious odor of a body infrequently bathed and the warm, slippery scent of greasy hair. It permeated the stones, but faintly, as if the air was tugging it free and blending it with the wind that blew through the wrecked cottage. Fullanter. Then, even more faintly, the scent of smoke. Not the smoke of a campfire or even of a burning building, but a darker, thicker smell, slightly sour, as if someone had smeared grease on a hunk of ancient cheese and then set it alight. Evon let it seep into his closed nostrils and into his lungs. It wasn't exactly an unpleasant smell, but it made him uneasy, as though he'd invited something to take residence in his body that might not be the most gracious of guests. But nothing happened. He let the scent fill him to the core, then said, "Desini," and the smells vanished so completely that even after he lowered both his hands, he felt as if his sense of smell had been surgically excised. Only the thick, sour smell of smoke remained, trailing away out of the cottage and down the road south toward Chaneston.