Everywhere in Paris there was history built on history. Nothing ever died. It was transformed and transmuted. Like Robbie had said about people’s lives.
(from The Collector of Dying Breaths)
The Collector of Dying Breaths, the latest novel in M.J. Rose’s series about reincarnation, continues (and I believe concludes) her tale about Jac L’Etoile, which began in The Book of Lost Fragrances and Seduction. All of the novels can be read on their own, which is unusual for a series with six installments, but I think Jac’s story can be best understood by reading at least these last three novels in order.
As with the previous novels, Rose beautifully shifts scenes between the past and the present. She introduces readers to René le Florentine, an Italian orphan who learned the art of making perfumes and elixirs in the monastery where he grew up, and after being accused of poisoning his mentor, he is saved by Catherine de Medici when she makes him her perfumer and takes him to France upon her marriage to King Henry II in 1533. René gets caught up in the queen’s marital problems and court intrigues and is called upon to manufacture poisons, but tragedy prompts him to spend much of his life devoted to work that began in the monastery, where Dom Serapino taught him how to capture a person’s dying breath in the hopes that one day an elixir could be created to bring them back to life through reincarnation.
In present-day Paris, mythologist Jac L’Etoile, who comes from a long line of perfumers, loses someone dear to her, someone whose dying wish was for her to find out whether it really is possible to reanimate a human breath. Although still resistant to what some call her gift, the ability to see and experience her past-life memories and other people’s as well, Jac travels to Barbizon, a small town near the forest of Fontainebleau, where René performed his experiments. The quest forces Jac to reconnect with Griffin North, her first and only love, and come to terms with the past, both recent and ancient.
The Collector of Dying Breath is haunting and sensual, from its detailed descriptions of fragrances to the story of passion and loss that is at its core. Rose is an expert at pacing, and as the events unfolded and the lines between the past and the present blurred, I was hooked. There are so many layers to this story, with various people intent on uncovering the mystery of the elixir, the connections between René and Jac’s stories, and especially the evolution of Jac’s character. The only thing I could’ve done without were the sex scenes, but at least they were well written and said a lot about the characters.
This is more than just a romance novel, though it is a tale about love, both romantic and familial. The history, the mystery, and the strong characters add a lot of depth to the novel, and one doesn’t need to believe in reincarnation but only to go with the flow to enjoy the story. The Collector of Dying Breaths is a sad but hopeful novel about the complexity of life and death and how the bonds between some people can never be broken. Like all of the novels in the series, it is exciting and meant to be read for sheer pleasure, but it also is thoughtful and would definitely generate much discussion in a book club setting.
Thanks to Amy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for having me on the tour for The Collector of Dying Breaths. Click the image below for more information about the book and to follow the tour.
Disclosure: I received The Collector of Dying Breaths from Atria for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.