2015’s The Smoke-Scented Girl is the first volume in Melissa McShane’s Dalanine secondary-universe fantasy series.
The kingdom of Dalanine is under attack. The Despot is marching steadily, unstoppably, towards the capital. Dalanine is also dealing with a rash of deadly arson attacks.
Research magician Evon Lorantis is working desperately to work out who or what agency is causing the fires.
What he discovers: a young woman who can’t control her new powers.
Kerensa Haylter has been struck with a compulsion to seek out evil-doers. Once she reaches them, she bursts into flames hot enough to melt rock. She is destroyed, but rises, phoenix-like, from the ashes. Her body recovers; her mind does not. She is devastated by the memories of pain; she feels guilt at the collateral damage she cannot help causing.
Kerensa cannot stop the flames, but she can defer them for a time. If she does, the resulting explosion is even hotter and deadlier. All she can do is try to hold off long enough to limit the number of innocent bystanders killed when she bursts into flame.
Evon is just the sort of brilliant young mage who can handle this job. He cobbles up a spell of fire protection; he attempts to remove the compulsion that victimizes Kerensa. He is highly motivated to do this, as he has fallen desperately in love with the hapless Kerensa.
He is opposed by a government faction that sees an opportunity In Kerensa’s affliction. She can be weaponized against the oncoming Despot.
Evon discovers that she is just that: a weapon aimed at the Despot. She just needs to be aimed. When she succeeds, she will finally die. This is not acceptable to Evon.
I suspect that if this curse had landed on a crotchety old man, a fat person, or a snarky, snide teen, the powers that be would crated up the cursee and left them in the path of the Despot without a second thought. Kerensa was unlucky to attract the curse, but also lucky enough to be a lovely, sweet young woman who makes a magician swoon.
This was … mostly harmless. The prose is functional. The world building is impressionistic rather than detailed. This particularly goes for the Despot, whose character is that he is the Big Bad. Why he might want to conquer the world seems unclear, although I suppose the same might have been said about Napoleon or Genghis Khan. Perhaps if he had been given a backstory involving pitiable childhood abuse….
This seemed harmless enough, even if I don’t seem to be quite the right reviewer for it. As it happens, I have a couple more of McShane’s books on the to-read list. We’ll see how it goes.