Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Scent of Shadows, by Vicki Pettersson

The Scent of Shadows is the debut novel by former Vegas showgirl Vicki Pettersson. I only mention the Vegas Showgirl part because it is listed in her author bio and also because it shows that there is a good deal of darkness and creativity tucked away beneath those sequins. The Scent of Shadows is a supernatural fantasy set amidst the lights and glamor and the shadows of Las Vegas.

Joanna Archer is an heiress of one of the richest men in Vegas, she is a photographer walking the streets after dark looking to expose the images most people would rather not see. She is also looking for a fight, looking for the man who raped her ten years before and left her for dead. Joanna has spent her life since that moment training so that she will never be able to be attacked again and not be able to defend herself.

That's not really what the book is about, though. That's just who Joanna is, or who she thinks she is. The book is about an ancient battle between Light and Shadow. Joanna Archer is the key to this battle, though when the novel opens she doesn't know it.

See, there are heroes and villains and Joanna is a target for the villains and the key for the heroes. When she is attacked by an Agent of Shadow she is pulled into this world of superheroes and her battle really begins for the first time.

Vicki Pettersson brings us a world where we live and go about our day to day lives without ever catching a glimpse of this ancient battle where superheroes and supervillains. While Pettersson slowly reveals this hidden world she never truly makes the superhero concept feel absurd because she grounds everything in a sense of reality. She also reveals things slowly enough that when we get to some of the silliness we've accepted the reality which she has presented.

This is what we call a "real page turner". The phrase could not be more cliche, but in this case it is true. Pettersson has an easy reading style which flows, one reminiscent of of a Laurell K. Hamilton, though I would suggest that from the debut novel Pettersson is off to a stronger start. Pettersson's Joanna Archer is at least as interesting a character as Hamilton's Anita Blake. But what Pettersson excels at, and is frankly superior to Hamilton at, is the hard driving nature of the plot and story. Pettersson moves it along with a good deal of action and new revelations which keep the reading wishing to know what happens next.

At every point in the novel I wanted to know what was going to happen next to Joanna Archer and what she would learn about the men trying to kill her and about those trying to help her. I wanted to know more about that Zodiac Troop and the Star Signs and what the basis for this hidden world is. The Scent of Shadows is a compelling read.

It isn't a perfect read, however. There are aspects of the Zodiac Troop and the superhero part of the novel which seems a bit too flashy and a bit too superhero like, and then Pettersson introduces this idea about the "manuals" of each side (Light and Shadow) being written in comic books and the other side is physically unable to read the manual of the other side. This one aspect of the book feels a bit much, a bit over the top, but otherwise The Scent of Shadows was a pleasure to read.

And, it was a real page turner.

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