Review: The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose

dying-breathsA lush and imaginative novel that crisscrosses time as a perfumer and a mythologist search for the fine line between potion and poison, poison and passion…and past and present.
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 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, Rene 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, is trying to recover from personal heartache by throwing herself into her work, learns of the 16th century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breathes 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… a purpose for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means. This mesmerizing gothic tale of passion and obsession crisscrosses time, zigzagging 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.” – Publisher Summary

I first became a fan of M.J. Rose after reviewing the fifth book in her Reincarnationist series, Seduction, last year. I have since backtracked and read the fourth book in the series, The Book of Lost Fragrances, which only cemented my infatuation. It goes without saying, then, that I jumped at the chance to review Rose’s sixth book in the series, The Collector of Dying Breaths {to be released on April 8, 2014}.

Our tale is narrated by two characters living in completely different eras. Jac L’Etoile is a present-day mythologist who is also heiress to a perfume dynasty. Jac is still reeling from the discovery of her past lives and of her gift of channeling the past lives of those around her. While she doesn’t necessarily believe in these abilities, as time goes on it becomes harder and harder for her to deny them. While mourning her younger brother’s death, Jac is invited to continue in his stead the research and experimentation he had been conducting in Barbizon, France. Worlds collide when Jac discovers the laboratory of Rene le Florentin, perfumer of Catherine de Medici’s court in 1573, and the two merge into one as Jac travels into the past, accessing Rene’s memories and revealing both a mystery and a love story that transcend the bounds of time.

The thing I liked most about this particular novel of M.J. Rose’s is the prevalence of the historic storyline; it is much more involved than the previous two novels I have read. There is also a love story to be told by Rene, which really rounds out the book. The suspense side of things comes more from Jac’s end of the story, which ties the two together nicely. I greatly enjoyed Rene’s storyline. For the first time, the reader was invited to truly delve into the past life Jac was experiencing and I appreciated the history involved. Rose writes with such depth and mastery that it’s hard not to be pulled in to the story from the beginning, and to regret having to leave it at the end. I’ve heard from others that they were not fond of Jac’s character, however, I did not find that to be the case for myself – I did like her, and felt sympathetic toward her as she seems to constantly be experiencing some amount of inner turmoil regarding her abilities and her personal relationships.

Something I loved, loved, loved about The Collector of Dying Breaths, and Rose’s other novels, is the inclusion of the perfume industry in her storylines. Rose has obviously painstakingly researched this subject and her flawless detailing of the plethora of scents, oils, and potions throughout history and present times shows this to be true. Her descriptions of the various scents were so descriptive I could nearly smell them as I read, and I found myself wishing I were able to visit the House of L’Etoile to experience some of these magical fragrances for myself. This was definitely a lush nuance to the novel that spoke to me of history, mystery, beauty, and love.

I have to say that before reading M.J. Rose’s novels, I had not shown much interest in the historical fiction genre. Her writing was truly a gateway for me into the genre, and brought to me a whole new wealth of reading material. If you are looking for a change of scenery, or if you already are a fan of historical fiction, The Collector of Dying Breaths is definitely a novel you’ll want to pick up.

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose will be available for purchase on April 8, 2014. Buy it, read it, love it.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Atria Books {via NetGalley}

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