Saturday, 7 July 2007

The Scent of Shadows by Vicki Pettersson


Where to begin. Joanna Archer has a destiny of which she is unaware. Attacked at 16 and left for dead, she survived against all the odds. But unbeknownst to her time was still running out - now it's almost up. On her 25th birthday she'll be faced with a choice - live or die, fight for the light or the dark. Now as she discovers her family secrets and finds out who she is, she'll take her place in the Zodiac.

This is one of the best books I have read this year. (I will mention here that I'm a huge X-Men and Heroes fan, please note the bias). Combining superheroes and urban fantasy into a compulsive read. Joanna is a flawed heroine, she complains, she bitches and she's got a smart mouth, but she's human, she's real and you empathise with her. And when push comes to shove she gets on with it. It's the fact that she isn't perfect that makes her so interesting to read. She has a duality, drawn to the light and the dark, and she acknowledges that part of herself that is frightening.

Example - when she confronts the construction worker. At the time it seems a bitchy but trivial thing. How many of us speak without thinking every day. But for Joanna it's different, her actions have tragic consequences. It illustrates how easy it would be for her to turn towards the dark.

My favourite quote from the book - "Tell me, XXX, because I feel like I'm missing something here, but what part of 'meet me at the Peppermill' means 'go fight Ajax at the corner drugstore'?" (XXX replaces a character name which would be a big spoiler).

The other characters are equally interesting and well written - Olivia the perfect sister, Warren the mentor with a disturbing past of his own, Chandra the jealous initiate who feels Joanna has stolen her place. What lifts this story above others is the fact it's made clear that though you may be born to the light or dark Zodiac you still have a choice, you can change. Shades of grey are nearly always more interesting to read about than black and white.

Must quickly mention here the comic shop scene which is my favourite from the book and I thought very reminiscent of a similar scene from The Lost Boys movie. Joanna tries to find out about being a superhero (agent of the Zodiac) from the comic books that have been written about them (called manuals), as she's trailed round the shop by suspicious geeks. Just a wonderfully written segment. (Being something of a sci-fi geek I like the whole comic book/trading card angle. :) )

It is another 'The One' story, where Joanna is being hailed as The Kairos born from a mother of the light and a father of the dark. (Naomi, possibly not one for you :)) But I wonder if it's going to be that simple, or if Vicki Pettersson is going to go Star Wars on us. When Joanna was raped at 16 it was by an Agent of the Dark Zodiac and she gave birth to a little girl (the Zodiacs are matrilineal). So if Joanne chooses to be an agent of light...Methinks she really needs to find her daughter no matter how much she doesn't want to, before Grandpa gets his hands on her.

The story isn't perfect, after I finished the book it occurred to me that there were not necessarily plot inconsistencies but certainly confusions (though this could be a personal thing). Especially as regards who did and did not know who Joanna was, hopefully this will be made clearer in future books. I know other people take issue with the fact that a) a cop left his front door open and b) Joanna was able to sneak away from him without him waking up. I do think the sneaking away was pretty much covered in the set up, so I can forgive that. There are also a couple of typos, at least I hope they are typos. On page 414 'ions and electrodes' bumped along Joanna's skin like 'blind bees'. The ions I get, the electrodes(?), possibly it's meant to be electrons, but I like that only slightly better than electrodes.

But this is such a fantastic rollercoaster read that I don't really care too much about these minor problems and the first thing I did after I finished it was order book #2. Highly recommended.

Book #2 The Taste of Night (April 2007)
The Harvest - short story in Holidays are Hell (Nov 2007) featuring Joanna's mother.
Book #3 The Touch of Twilight


Crys said...

I didn't really like it (for all the reasons you've mentioned), although it's definite a decent read.

The cop-and-sneaking thing didn't even bother me that much. It's the whole attitude change that makes me wonder how is it no one wants to commit her into the asylum for being so unlike the person she is supposed to be.

Naomi said...

I loved this book and rushed out to grab The Taste of Night. Unfortunately I didn't like that as much - there was a great sense of "running in place." By the end I didn't feel like Jo had changed or accomplished much more than she had by the end of Scent. I'll pick up book three, but with more reservations.

LesleyW said...

Naomi - that's a problem when you've enjoyed the first book in a series so much, it raises your expectations for the second. My copy finally arrived so I'll post my thoughts after I've finished.

Crys - Sorry you didn't enjoy it. I think the next review up is for Magic Bites.

Nicole said...

I think I'll have to try this one. Sounds interesting, if nothing else.