He struggled to separate out the notes he recognized from the ones he didn’t, searching for the ingredients that gave the blend its promise of hope, of long nights and voluptuous dreams, of invitation and embrace. Of an everlasting covenant ripe with possibility. Of lost souls reunited.
Tears sprang to the perfumer’s eyes as he inhaled again. This was the kind of scent he’d always imagined capturing. He was smelling liquid emotion. Giles L’Etoile was smelling love.
(from The Book of Lost Fragrances, page 6 in the advanced reading copy; finished version may be different)
The Book of Lost Fragrances is the fourth book in M.J. Rose‘s series about reincarnation, preceded by The Reincarnationist, The Memorist, and The Hypnotist. These books can be read on their own, as each has a different story, but they are connected in some way to one character who factors into each. I enjoyed the first two books in the series, but The Book of Lost Fragrances blows them both away. Rose has a way of drawing you in from the first page, tantalizing you with a glimpse of history and the promise of a multi-layered story with characters whose past and present lives are fascinating.
It’s hard to sum up The Book of Lost Fragrances, as there are numerous twists and turns, and the way Rose ties the characters and plot threads together around a memory tool is amazing. The book centers on Jac L’Etoile, who comes from a long line of Parisian perfumers. Her father has lost his mind to dementia, and Jac and her younger brother, Robbie, are left with a failing business. Jac insists that they must sell off two of their signature perfumes in order to stay afloat, but Robbie has his heart set on finding a book of perfume recipes from ancient Egypt during Cleopatra’s reign — a book of lost fragrances that was said to have been taken from a tomb by one of the L’Etoile ancestors in 1799, a book that could give the House of L’Etoile a much needed boost.
Jac doesn’t believe the book exists, and she doesn’t believe the shards of ancient pottery found by her brother contain a fragrance that triggers past-life memories. It seems that Jac is the only one who doesn’t see the importance of the pottery shards, but she is forced to rethink her beliefs when she realizes that people are willing to kill in order to get their hands on what might be an actual memory tool.
In The Book of Lost Fragrances, Rose takes readers on a journey through present-day Paris and the catacombs under the city, ancient Egypt, Paris during the French Revolution, China, and Tibet. It’s obvious that Rose has done a lot of research about perfumes, reincarnation, and the connection between scent and memory. I never stopped to consider the different layers of a fragrance before reading this book, and like one of the characters, I realized how easy it can be to go through life without paying much attention to the scents we encounter on a daily basis. I was drawn to the parts of the story that took place in the past and how they were connected to the events in the present through scent.
Rose’s characters are flawed and conflicted, especially Jac, who is forced to confront her biggest fears, her inner demons, and a former lover she fought so long and hard to forget in order to keep her brother alive and ensure the pottery doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. Rose’s descriptions of the scents that assault Jac at every turn put readers in the scene, opening their minds to the significance of the sense of smell. I almost felt like I was sitting at the perfumer’s organ with Jac, staring in awe at the bottles of fragrance and fascinated with the idea of being able to mix the different florals and woods together to create a unique scent with the power to bind people together for eternity. Rose includes a little something for everyone in The Book of Lost Fragrances — history, romance, action, and suspense. She is a skilled storyteller, and I enjoyed going along for the ride.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.