M.J. Rose is a thriller for the senses. I have never read a book that made me think deeply about all the scents and smells I come across on a daily basis. We all have a particular scent. I know what I smell like and if I think hard enough I can think of what my family members smell like. It would be odd if those scents change.
Think hard enough and a scent can make you think back to memories of the past. Good memories and bad memories, that's how powerful a scent can be. But can we sense joy, sadness, danger, or even past lives just from a simple smell? I don't know if I necessarily believe that last part myself, but that's what The Book of Lost Fragrances is asking you to believe. It's a thrilling story wrapped up in history, mythology, religion, and mystery.
Jac L'Etoile has been running from her past for years. She fled Paris for America, running away from the pain of her mother's suicide and her family legacy. The House of Etoile has been manufacturing perfumes for more than 200 years, but now the company is facing financial ruin. Jac's brother Robbie has an idea for saving the company, but doesn't know how to sell his sister on the idea. To save the company Jac would have to revisit her unique gift -- a powerful ability to detect exotic scents. Robbie has discovered pottery shards, decorated with hieroglyphics, which he believes contains the formula for an ancient scent. A scent that could take a person back to their past lives. A formula like that not only has the potential to be lucrative but a very powerful tool for whomever possessives it.
Jac wants no part of Robbie's plan. She believes it's a fool's journey. Jac is being practical but she is also equally afraid of facing the potential power of this formula. It could force her to face her past. A past that she has long kept secret. In her youth, Jac often had vivid dreams of living in ancient Egypt and the late 1780s. Is it a past life? Is it just a dream? Or was Jac going crazy? Those are questions she doesn't want to answer. Those dreams were always painful. She always ended up losing the loving of her life, just as Jac did in her present-day life. If there is no way to end this cycle, why should Jac revisit the past?
Jac and Robbie's story was the best part of this book. You could really see how bonded they were to each other despite their disagreements. I wish the book had stuck with their story alone. Outside of their relationship there are so many subplots.
Robbie brings in friends and experts to try to decipher the formula, including an explorer, Griffin, who happens to be Jac's ex-boyfriend. A little convenient that an ex-boyfriend has to be brought in, but that's not what bothered me about the book. Robbie doesn't realize how powerful this formula could be until his life is put in danger. The secondary storyline tackles China's battle with Tibet over reincarnation. The Chinese government wants to regulate reincarnation. I don't know the whole history behind this, but I was thinking, "does the government really have the right to do that?" If people believe in past lives, the government still has no right to intrude. But it's because of government intrusion that this formula is worth protecting. It must get into the right hands, and in Robbie's mind that person is the Dalai Lama. There are people out there who will do anything to stop Robbie from putting it in his hands.
I felt this was two books in one. You have the strife of the L'Etoile family and then the reincarnation storyline. The book changes point of view several times. It jumps back and forth between the 1780s, ancient Egypt and the present day. Sometimes I had trouble following the storyline because of the time shifts. When reading the story from Jac's point of view I was completely drawn in, and not so much when others took over. I was drawn into the family dynamic between Jac and Robbie, probably because I like family dramas. The book even ends on a emotional note for the L'Etoile family. Jac has found a way to let go of the past, but not without paying a big price. I can't say what that price is because I don't want to give away too much. But if you're a fan of historical fiction, give this one a try.
Rating: Give it a try
Note: I received a copy of the book from the author as part of a blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.