Monday, February 05, 2007

Review: The Scent of Shadows

The Scent of Shadows by Vicki Petterrson

Had Vicki Petterrson called me up and asked how she could write the perfect urban fantasy novel, I’d be hard pressed to find an answer better than the one she provides with her debut novel, The Scent of Shadows: The First Sign of the Zodiac.

Imagine that in each city, a troupe of six men and six women exist—the Zodiac, warriors of the Light. In back alleys and government buildings, they do battle with their opposites, the Shadows—twelve warriors trying to send humanity into debauchery and chaos. Twelve balance twelve, creating harmony. But the Lights of Las Vegas are being put out, and only the Kairos—warrior who is both Light and Shadow—can return the balance.

Many of the preliminary reviews for The Scent of Shadows liken it to a comic book. While they are entirely correct, none of those reviews have fully explained the relationship. This is, after all, more than a debut novel or an introduction to one of my new favorite authors—it’s an origin story. Were it an actual comic book, it could have been titled The Archer: Year One.

After all, it accomplishes what all good origin stories must: an introduction to the main character, her world, the rules of that world, her powers, her enemies and allies, and that first stumble that will help to define where she’ll fall on the range between Light and Shadow.

While comic books have vivid, brightly colored panels to accomplish this, The Scent of Shadows has everything penciled in by an admirable, believable narrator: Joanna Archer. Through Joanna’s senses, the panels of her story are expertly drawn in our minds. But it is the actions and dialogue of each character that provides the final ink and colors. This is not a book that tells you who someone is or what Vegas is like—it shows you.

Given the success of NBC’s runaway hit Heroes, I’d say we’re ready for the revamped, modern take that Petterrson has on superheroes. This is an original, vivacious and much needed addition to a genre over-saturated with werewolves, vampires, and blood-soaked battles that hang off their generic Tough Chick narrator like her multiple weapons.

Joanna Archer lives and breathes as a real, honest individual. Someone you might know, or at least wish you did. When she overcomes and succeeds, you cheer. When she falters, you want to call her up on her crystal-studded cellphone and tell her that it’ll be all right.

The balance of Light and Shadow within Joanna is reflected in the balance of light and dark moments in the book. A touching scene can easily become a battleground, and a battle can easily become a moment of humor. Never does this seem forced. Each sentence of Joanna’s story slips into the next—not like magic, but like life.

The dialogue is tight; even conversations that would seem frivolous are used to develop characters and paint the scene. In fact, some of them shine brightest in the book, like the “spa date” Joanna has with Cher. If I have one minor quibble, it's that in one multiple character scene it was difficult to tell who was speaking, but that seems a fault of my inexperience with Petterrson's clever absence of tags and not the dialogue itself.

Of course, no epic battle of good and evil can take place without its villians. And what villains they are! Ajax Sand will make your skin crawl. You’ll shudder each time Joanna has to inhale his putrid stench. Joaquin will make you think twice about ever walking the desert alone. And the Tulpa, well, let’s just say it’s been a while since such a fantastic concept has been utilized to create a “supervillian.”

The Scent of Shadows will satisfy you, while leaving you hungry for all things that we’ve been promised will come. I look forward to seeing Joanna’s relationship with her teammates evolve, especially the handsome Hunter. Watching her balance her alter ego of socialite and her crime-fighting duties promise a continuation of the book’s internal and external conflicts. Hurry, April, and bring The Taste of Night with you!


Rachel said...

I have her first two on preorder through amazon. I await with baited breath.

Katy said...

This sounds very like X/1999 in the world set up to me, just without the moral ambiguity, and with 12 instead of 7 on each side...

But it also sounds pretty fun, and seeing as I am denied more X, I'll probably pick it up.

c.rooney said...

Hmm, Katy, that's an interesting observation. Do you think the seven scrolls of heaven in the Book of Revelations and the twelve zodiac signs in western astrology might account for that difference?

Christina Rundle said...

Hmm, I'm going to have to take a look at that. My reading list right now is a little high, I'm afraid with school I won't be doing much on fun reading till things start to even out for me. Your review was wonderful, so I want to read this soon.

Heather Harper said...

Really good review, Chandra.

(I'll be writing mine this week.)

And interesting observation about the seven scrolls, etc...

Danne Cole said...

Oh wow! That is an excellent review! I really cannot wait to get this book!