The Scent of Shadows by Vicki Pettersson

Joanna Archer is one of the daughters of a rich Las Vegas mogul – Xavier Archer. While her sister Olivia is a blonde socialite whose character is sweetness and light, Joanna is the dark and brooding sister – a traumatic event has separated her from others and colored her view of the world. Olivia is loved by Xavier, Joanna is not. Their mother, Zoe, left mysteriously many years ago, and as Joanna's birthday comes around, people start to approach her, and she becomes aware of a hidden war between dark and light which may have something to do with her mother's disappearance, and definitely has something to do with Joanna.

The Scent of Shadows is a book I'd classify as dark urban fantasy. It's set in Las Vegas, there are monsters and heroes and superpowers in it and there are a lot of horrifying and violent elements to it as well. I think the series I'd compare it to in the darkness scale is maybe Lilith Saintcrow's Dante Valentine series. This book wrung me out, but I did find the ending somewhat satisfying and I am looking forward to book 2, The Taste of Night.

(On an aside: the creepiest death scenes I've read in a book for the past few years was in Tamara Siler Jones' Ghosts in the Snow. Eeeek, I needed breaks after each murder. Of course, I am squeemish.)

In The Scent of Shadows the violent bits were not as gorey as the book above, but there was also a lot of emotional pain to deal with on top of it.  It's told from a first person perspective, and I could just be ridiculously sensitive, but I had to put the book down then pick it up and continue when I was ready. To tell you the truth, it's not uncommon for me to put a book down to process what I just read for all kinds of reasons, but with this book it was about processing emotions. The heroine, Joanna Archer, goes through anger, pain, loss, heartache, treachery, vengeance.. and I was emotionally invested. Basically, Joanna's emotional state was well written.

The world building was slow at the beginning and then revelations came in doses as Joanna seemed to be kept in the dark about many things until she absolutely had to know. The explanation of the Zodiac is something that will probably continue on to the next book. In this first book, I understood the gist, and some major points about their powers and their life cycles, but really knowing their history and why they exist is still unclear to me. Joanna is still a fledgling to this world so it makes sense she doesn't know everything yet, and I hope to learn more about "superhero" training and more about the good guys and bad guys in the next book. I thought the comic book explanation was a little odd, but that's a nit. My favorite part of the world building was the scents - the ability to smell emotions and even thoughts. Luckily for me, this was a major part of the Zodiac world.

This book was also long - 455 pages, which I'm not sure everyone will like. It did feel long to me when I was less than a hundred pages in and was still wondering what was going on. I think it really stopped mattering to me after a certain pivotal scene at Olivia's apartment. After that, I could have read forever.

Overall an engaging, gritty story with an ass-kicking heroine. Worth a read if you like something a little dark.

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