My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
* This review may contain some spoilers.
A love for all things alchemy first drew me to this book. Potions. Poisons. Perfumes. Who could resist? Add in past lives, a Medici, and a myth, well, no one could resist.
The story begins when Rene le Florentin, the perfumer to Catherine de Medici, is writing a letter to his son to be read at the time of his death, in the letter Rene is reminiscing about the last 40 years of his life. The author sets a powerful scene of Rene exualting that if he had not been called a murderer on that night those 40 years ago that then "there might not be any perfume in Paris today." (pg. 13)
Rene rambles on about love. Not young love but a love that comes to those later in life and how a love like that can be the cruelest sort. He talks of his one true love, Isabeau, and how he dreams of her. The way that he speaks about her, with her silken skin and "her own natural perfume richer and more luxurious that anything..." he "...ever could have created and bottled." (pg.14) You can feel how tormented and lonely Rene has become.
The Isabeau of Rene's dreams teases him that once he finishes the elixir than and only than can he have all of her. He is driven a bit mad about it, rambling on about the cruelty of the fates for giving him " love at that moment after a lifetime of holding it back." (pg.14) He wants revenge on the fates, those crones, who made love walk into his life at all just to yank it out from under him when true happiness was within his grasp.
Throughout the story we the reader are zigzagged across time, from the present to the 1500's, but you will not find yourself lost because each time frame is marked either in the chapter heading or is transitioned well in the story so there shouldn't be any confusion as to what time period you are reading about. I pinpoint most of the back story of Rene, a character from the past, in the beginning because his story is interconnected with a character of the present, Jac.
Rene's story starts for us in 1573, all alone after the death of his mentor Dom Serapino, a monk and the chief apothecary of a monastery in Florence, Rene is accused of poisoning his mentor and is handed over to the local authorities since he was only an apprentice to a monk not a monk himself so the monastery could not punish him. Rene is languishing in jail but just in the nick of time comes a beautiful lady that pulls Rene from out of the pits of the jail and takes her on a journey to France, this lady was Catherine de Medici. Catherine is being wed to the second in the line for the throne of France and knows that she will need as many allies from her previous life that she can take along with her. Rene cannot stay in Florence for obvious reasons and this salvation that Catherine provides Rene makes him loyal to her to the very end. But Catherine didn't just bring Rene to France for his perfumes her plans looked towards the future and Catherine knew that she would need Rene's knowledge of poisons to hold her place in the French court. Rene does his work for Catherine and even has his own little shop where he sells his wares to others, he becomes independently wealthy, but Rene still cannot get the last experiment that him and Dom Serapino were working on right before he died, it was for an elixir that would reanimate someone's last dying breath.
Isabeau walks into Rene's life, she is one of Catherine's ladies-in-waiting and also one of her best spies, and Rene falls instantly in love. Isabeau of course cannot wed without Catherine's permission but Catherine always seems to have a need for Isabeau always blocking the way for a marriage between Rene and Isabeau. Soon scandal erupts in the court and Catherine's daughter is right in the middle of it and Isabeau is the one that ratted her out to Catherine. The daughter of course finds out who betrayed her and she extracts revenge with the help of Rene who is completely ignorant that he is creating poisoned gloves that will kill the woman he loves.
While Rene's story is unfolding another story this one in the present is unfolding alongside Rene's story and that story is Jac L'Etolie's story.
Jac L'Etolie is no ordinary woman her abilities to see the connection between people in the present with the lives they've lived in the past will lead her on a dangerous journey to uncover past secrets that will hopefully enable her to complete Rene's elixir to reanimate a person's dying breath so that they may once again live.
Jac has recently suffered the lose of her brother, Robbie. Unable to bear the grief Jac finds herself aimlessly wandering through daily life in a fog always searching out her brother's presence. Before his death Robbie was working on some experiments for Melinoe, an eccentric billionaire, who want to live forever. Robbie's death puts a stop to these experiments unless Melinoe can convince Jac to carry on Robbie's work. So what made first Robbie and than Jac so perfect to work on the elixir, well they are perfumers, actually they come from a long line of perfumers and their company is world famous for its perfumes. So like Rene both Robbie and Jac may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of the elixir so that death wouldn't really be the end. Melinoe, accompanied by Serge, her step-brother, try to convince Jac of the importance of the elixir and that there is even the possibility of bringing Robbie back from death.
Jac is not only interested in the possibility of bringing her brother back from death. She is also fascinated by how this elixir is a part of her past and her present through her past lives. Continuing episodes of her past lives play out for Jac like a movie would to us bringing her closer each day to finding out how to complete the elixir. Jac soon finds that Melione and Robbie's quest had included many people from her own life including her ex-fiance Griffin, who was helping Robbie translate some of the strange symbols on the artifacts surrounding the myth of the elixir. Jac soon links the connection between her life now and the past life regressions she has been experiencing and it doesn't take long for her to compare her and Griffin to Isabeau and Rene.
Griffin starts to suspect that Melinoe is more dangerous than she seems and that her obsession with the elixir is putting Jac in danger. Jac figures out that the elixir is more death than life. Robbie broke one of the vials right before he took sick, the elixir is what killed him. Melinoe however refuses to believe it and decides the best way to get to Jac is to threaten her, so Melinoe kidnaps Griffin and threatens harm to him unless Jac does what Melinoe wants. Unable to escape because Melinoe has trapped her in the house as well Jac sees no end to the situation they find themselves in. A fight ensues when Melinoe throws a lit candelabra at Jac and soon the chateau is engulfed in flames. Jac, Serge and Griffin all get out but Melinoe is inside and Serge cannot bear it he runs back inside the burning house. Serge and Melinoe never come out.
Griffin and Jac well I am not going to give that away since I gave away pretty much the rest of the story but I will leave you with this quote:
Love, like energy, never dies. You lose people only in the moment. But time is a long road that circles back. At some point the missing turns into love and returns. It's returned now.
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