Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Scent of Darkness, by Margot Berwin. Pantheon Books, 2013

Evangeline spends every summer with her grandmother, Louise, because her single mother doesn’t want her around. Louise lives in a stone house in a tiny town, hanging out with her Tarot reading friend and making scents. While Louise loves Evangeline and teaches her many things, she never lets her into her workroom. That area is closed to her until Louise dies and leaves her house to 18 year old Evangeline.

Evangeline, arriving at the house the day after she graduates from school, finds a young man sitting at the kitchen table- it’s the only quiet place he has found to study for med school. Gabriel is a beautiful young man, and Evangeline is drawn to him and allows him to continue coming to the house to study. But there is a problem: Gabriel has a girlfriend.

Louise has left Evangeline another item: a tiny vial of ruby glass with a small bit of scent, with a note: “Don’t remove the crystal stopper, Evangeline, unless you want everything in your life to change” Evangeline feels her life sucks, so how can she resist? Of course she opens it and applies the scent, which penetrates her skin and becomes one with her. The scent starts coming off her in waves, even several showers and days later.

The scent makes her irresistible. Gabriel leaves his girlfriend for her, strangers are drawn to her, women put their noses in her hair, cats and dogs want to get close. Suddenly, Evangeline is the special girl that she has never been. But being universally attractive has its problems- bad is attracted along with good. Evangeline must decide between bad and good, while trying to decide if she is loved for herself, or just for her magical scent. What is real and what isn’t?

This is a coming of age story in magical realistic style. Evangeline has come to the point in her life where she must find her own identity. The author paints her as an empty vessel into which the scent is poured; Evangeline has no friends, no interests, no ambitions. Will she allow the scent to continue to be all she is, or will she chose to fill herself with something more?

The story itself is interesting; the scent is a unique idea. But Evangeline herself never came to life for me; her lack of interests and drive made her flat. Gabriel isn’t very deep either; he exists to study for med school and to love Evangeline. The villain is well done; he is warped and made my skin crawl. I give this one 4 stars. 

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