This is a book review for The Scent of Shadows by Vicki Pettersson.
The Scent of Shadows is The First Sign of the Zodiac. So it’s proclaimed on the cover of this newly released paperback. Yet this description only barely begins to hint at the depth of this tome of ‘dark fantasy’- categorized so by the author herself. The stage is set in Las Vegas, a city built on paradox, or so it seems. Not only is there the contrast of neon glowing excess to the stark barrenness of desert; but there is also the intertwined but parallel worlds of human and paranormal.
Joanna Archer should by all rights be dead. Attacked, raped, and left for dead in the desert when she was 16 years old, she’s grown to become a strong, yet brittle woman. A reluctant heiress by day and a photographer by night, she spends her time searching the streets of her beloved hometown of Las Vegas. Whether she’s searching for her attacker, who was never found, or for her own lost innocence, it’s hard to say at first.
Recruited by a homeless vagrant who is far more than he seems, Joanna is initiated into a world of paranormal ‘superheroes’. They are crusaders: living in this world but not truly of it. The group consists of the human embodiment of the twelve Zodiac signs. They have been tasked with the burden of both fighting off and protecting the world from the Shadow Signs, their polar opposites and a source of great evil.
Despite (or maybe because of) spending the first half of the book almost thoroughly confused, I was enraptured by this world. In fact, I finished it in just over a day and that was with a break of an entire evening. Why did I take a break from reading if the story captured me so? Simply because I didn’t want it to end so soon.
Every page of this novel drew me deeper. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, so even the normal sights and sounds of that city were new to me. You can tell that not only has the author spent a vast amount of time there, but she loves it as well. That, above all, is what shines through the pages. And there’s more.
It’s taken me a couple of hours at least to being to process the underlying themes involved in this book. I’ve become accustomed to not having to think too hard when I read. Perhaps that’s a fault of my own, but Ms. Pettersson has certainly forced me to begin to do so again. Yes, there are all the action elements which make a good paranormal story: heightened speed and strength, unique abilities, flashy weapons, ‘magic’ storms, and portals to another world.
What makes this book so unique, I think, is the thought behind it. Without any paranormal elements at all, this is an intriguing read. Here we have a woman who was brutalized as a child, carrying all of the shame, frustration, rage, and determination to no longer be a victim that you would expect. She refuses to be seen as soft or too womanly, since those are traits she associates with weakness. Ironically enough, these are the same traits her beloved sister portrays. Seemingly abandoned by her mother, and neglected by her father, she’s rebuilt her world on a foundation of martial arts and a need for vengeance.
Further, this book seems to ask one question: What happens to a person when you take every identifying characteristic away? Can they survive as a whole, happy person? As said in the book, “And what a strange world it was when a woman had to lose herself in order to find herself.”
The mythology is a bit unclear, which is why I spent the first half of the book scratching my head and hoping for another scrap of information. However, I can also appreciate the depth of the history involved, and why the author chose not to provide a long dissertation on the back story. If you can stand the suspense and a little bit of confusion, you’ll enjoy being teased as the story unfolds. By the time you come to the action movie-worthy conclusion, you’ll know where everyone stands and be rooting for Joanna to kick some Shadowy ass.
In the interest of disclosure: This book was recommended to me (and a lot of other people) by Kim Harrison, the author of the upcoming For A Few Demons More via her Yahoo Group. This review is being posted in response to the Scent of Shadows contest hosted by Sara Howe. The second book in the series, The Taste of Night, is due out in April. Personally, I can’t wait.