Friday, March 30, 2012

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

* * 1/2

Jac L’Etoile has always been haunted by the past, her memories infused with the exotic scents that she grew up surrounded by as the heir to a storied French perfume company. In order to flee the pain of those remembrances – and of her mother’s suicide – she moved to America.

Now, fourteen years later she and her brother have inherited the company along with it’s financial problems. But when Robbie hints at an earth-shattering discovery in the family archives and then suddenly goes missing – leaving a dead body in his wake – Jac is plunged into a world she thought she’d left behind.

Back in Paris to investigate her brother’s disappearance, Jac becomes haunted by the legend the House of L’Etoile has been espousing since 1799. Is there a scent that can unlock the mystery of reincarnation – or is it just another dream infused perfume?

The Book of Lost Fragrances fuses history, passion, and suspense, moving from Cleopatra’s Egypt and the terrors of revolutionary France to Tibet’s battle with China and the glamour of modern-day Paris. Jac’s quest for the ancient perfume someone is willing to kill for becomes the key to understanding her own troubled past.

TBLF has a promising start, especially with a very captivating first chapter featuring Jac’s ancestor Giles who is in Egypt with Napoleon unearthing and exploring tombs. Upon uncovering one tomb in particular, Giles comes across the sarcophagus of what appears to be two star-crossed lovers, each clutching a pot containing a potent fragrance that can trigger past life memories.

Fast forward to the present moment; the House L’Etoile is facing a financial crisis. Jac’s brother Robbie believes he has the key to return the family to prosperity because he has found the legendary pottery shards from the tomb that Giles had discovered. The pottery shards contain the recipe for the mythical "memory" fragrance. It's believed that the ancient Egyptians were so adept at creating fragrances that they had discovered a way to trigger past-life memories through scent. To go public with such a discovery would be earth-shattering. The book has many subplots happening simultaneously between various characters, all inter-connected and every one of them facing different ramifications if reincarnation is proven to be possible. Most notably, the biggest would be the political impact on Tibet, the succession of the Dalai Lama and China’s desperate measures to both contain and control that region.

TBLF has so much going for it – mystery, intriguing historical references leading back to the time of Cleopatra and a political undercurrent that gives it an extra edge. Unfortunately it also suffers from too much storytelling, bogged down by needless detail. Too often in the initial chapters the characters will reminisce about something as a means of explaining their situation or their personalities but it just halts the flow of the story. This is especially the case with Jac who is besieged by various issues that it became tedious to the point that I found my interest waning. 

Things did pick up half way through the book such as when Jac succumbed to the "memory" fragrance. Or when all the characters were allowed to move forward and actually do something rather than just sift through their memories. 

While I wasn't exactly blown away by this book, I do still think that its premise is worth checking out. The historical references and past life collections are fascinating and thrilling once you move past the excess details.

~ Bel


  1. This was a really great review, Bel. I enjoyed the book for exactly the same reasons it lost you, but my opinion was probably influenced by the most recent "treasure hunt" book that I read. It wasn't nearly as well executed as TBLF, so I spent the majority of this book sighing with relief that it actually made sense. :-)

  2. Thank you Kayla. I think I may give this a second shot at some point and see if I feel any differently about it.