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The Scent of Shadows
Vicki Pettersson
HarperVoyager, 456 pages

The Scent of Shadows
Vicki Pettersson
Vicki Pettersson was born and raised in Las Vegas. A post-college stint in public relations convinced her that working on assignment wasn't for her, so she did what any self-respecting Vegas girl would do: She became a showgirl by night, and a closet novelist by day. A decade later she became an "instant" bestseller with the release of the first book in her dark fantasy series, The Scent of Shadows. Still residing in Las Vegas, where a backyard view of the Strip regularly inspires her to set down her martini and head back to her computer.

Vicki Pettersson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Touch of Twilight

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A review by David Hebblethwaite

Joanna Archer belongs to a wealthy Las Vegas family, but she didn't turn out quite like Olivia, her glamorous sister. Brutally raped at the age of 16, Joanna learned how to fight back and is now a photographer, documenting the side of Vegas that the tourists don't see. But, when a blind date turns sour, she discovers that there's a whole lot more out there than even she knows about. Every major city has its own Zodiac troop, a dozen people with extraordinary powers of strength, healing, and more besides; they are the Light, whose mission is to maintain peace and battle their Shadow counterparts. Joanna learns that she is the First Sign of the Las Vegas Zodiac troop, and may be destined to lead them in the ultimate battle against the Shadows. There's one thing, though: the Tulpa, the supernatural entity who leads Vegas's Shadow troop, is Joanna's real father...

In a sub-genre whose text are too often much of a muchness, Vicki Pettersson's first novel stands out as aiming to be different. It's not so much the set-up that leaves this impression (though Pettersson does have one of her characters state that vampires don't exist in this fictional world, as though to highlight the difference) as all the occasions when the author takes an unexpected path, whether with plot or characterization. For example, Olivia Archer and her best friend, Cher, may be party girls with a love of high heels and all things pink, but there's more to their characterization than the stereotypes that would be so easy to fall into. Olivia is not the bimbo she appears to be: she runs an underground website for hackers in her spare time. And, when there's a confrontation between Joanna and Cher, Pettersson puts a human face on Olivia's friend, a character who could have been no more than a one-dimensional airhead. The plot also surprises, particularly in its earlier stages, with twists that I didn't see coming, and which make Joanna's situation all the more interesting.

That said, The Scent of Shadows is clearly a beginning, for both its series and its author. The pacing of the novel is a little off, with Joanna spending too much of the second half in the Zodiac troop's alternate-reality enclave, such that the ending arrives in a rush. Also, the secondary members of the troop are not yet as well-rounded as they really ought to be. But there is plenty to anticipate in future volumes. This book is at its best and most interesting when the world of the Zodiac intersects with mundane reality; one hopes that intersection will continue, and perhaps increase, as the series progresses. Joanna's nature as a combination of Light and Shadow provides great scope for conflict, especially since she isn't always a very likeable character; even in this first novel, she does some pretty reprehensible things -- and, though she tries to justify herself, her reasoning doesn't necessarily wash. And, of course, it would be great to see the plot twists remain a regular feature. The Scent of Shadows may have its flaws, but there is clear evidence that Pettersson's series could become a superior example of its kind.

Copyright © 2008 David Hebblethwaite

David lives in Yorkshire where he reads a lot of books and occasionally does other things. His reviews have appeared in various venues and are all logged at his review blog He also maintains a personal blog, Reading by the Moon.

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