Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose

The Basics:
The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose
Book Six in the Reincarnationists series
Historical fiction, mystery, romance
Published April 8, 2014
Source: Received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why I picked up this book:

It sounded like a real reading experience - something deeper than the romances that I'd been burning through when I requested it.


Florence, Italy—1533:

An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fra­grances and potent medicines—and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the poten­tial to reanimate the dead.

In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country, but also the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, René doesn’t begin to imag­ine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.

Paris, France—The Present:

A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile—trying to recover from personal heartache by throw­ing herself into her work—learns of the sixteenth-century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomesobsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breaths he had collected during his lifetime.

Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Flo­rentin’s mysterious formula. Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection, a woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir . . . for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means.

This mesmerizing gothic tale zigzags from the violent days of Catherine de Medici’s court to twenty-first-century France. Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit cha­teaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind.

My thoughts:

The Collector of Dying Breaths is a beautiful, elegant journey between past and present.

The book focuses on Jac and Rene, in two very different time periods. I liked Jac - she's vulnerable, she's confused, she's a little lost and she's desperately seeking to extend her connection to her recently deceased brother. I felt a little like I was missing the first book in the series as I learned about her brother's previous involvement with a Chinese gang. Otherwise though, Jac's the perfect entry point into an evocative and sensual world. I don't wear perfumes or focus too much on scent but this novel definitely opened my mind to the language of it, to the possibilities of scent. Jac's struggle with the possibility of past lives alongside her desire to unlock the secrets of dying breaths is a delightful paradox.

In the past, Rene's rise from apprentice to master had me cheering for him. I wanted him to experience every success and I worried for him when threats loomed ever so near. I think the book does an excellent job of journeying back and forth, particularly when I would have been happy with either of the two stories alone. The way that Collector ties them together is excellent, and it kept me guessing about the outcome of both stories right through to the end of the book.

I wouldn't call this a romance so much as a love story. The mystery of the dying breaths is really the thrust of the story, but there are some pretty epic love stories played out against that. I appreciated that the romances didn't overshadow or overpower anything else, and that one of those love stories is really about the love Jac has for her brother. That sense of connection to family is something that really resonates with me, and it made everything in the book a little bit more. Full stop on that thought. Simply a little bit more.

While it took a little while for me to really get into the book (perhaps a product of the start-stop way I tried to read it at first), that didn't bother me so much as the ending which felt like a sudden blast of action after the pace of the rest of the novel. I didn't expect the story to end as it did, but it was, for the most part, fitting other than that it felt like a rush to get there after the slow build of the book.

It was easy for me to root for both of the main characters. This book got under my skin, and once I'd finished, I wanted to discuss it!  Where's a book club when you need one?

** Addendum: I discovered on the day this post went up that this was actually the sixth book in a series - hence my feeling like I'd missed an earlier book in the series.  I did. Five of them. So... yeah.

Bottom line:

Beautiful, rich, this book was an unexpected treasure. It might take a little to sink down into it, but I guarantee that it's worth the journey.

5 stars
For fans of mysteries, historical novels, perfume, love stories

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a memorable read, and it has a beautiful cover :) Great review!