Friday, March 21, 2014

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose

Do you believe in the idea of reincarnation and of the ability to reanimate someone using their last breath? You don't need to in order to read this book, but I am sure you would find it even more fascinating if you did. As it is, I need to suspend belief on lots of the things that drive the characters and that happen in the book but, in this case, it didn't hamper my enjoyment of the book. That isn't always the case as I have a bit of an up and down reaction to M J Rose's books. The last book in this series that I reviewed was Seduction (the fifth book) having not read The Book of Lost Fragrances and I really think that I would have enjoyed it more had I read in order.

This book is the sixth book in the Reincarnationist series, but I would argue that there are two linked trilogies that form the series. To get the most out of this book I think it definitely helps to have read at least The Book of Lost Fragrances and Seduction because the modern day storyline tracks through these three books.

Let's start with that modern day story. This book picks up two years after the last book. Jac L'Etoile is in Paris, mourning the loss of an incredibly important person in her life. I don't want to say who because even the death happens right at the beginning of the book, it is a character from the previous two books. I will say that I was quite upset that this character had been killed off, but we did get to witness some additional appearances in ghostly and paranormal forms. Jac is invited to recommence working on a project which has an eccentric but very wealthy woman trying to achieve the seemingly impossible - to reanimate a body after death.

Jac is, in effect, continuing the work of Rene le Florentine who was the master perfumer to one of the more infamous women in history, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France in the 16th century. Rene was a young apprentice in a Florentine monastery when he was accused of murder. He was only saved because of his knowledges of perfumes and poisons when Catherine takes him to Paris as part of her retinue as she marries into the French royal family.

Over the years, Rene continues his search for the secret to reanimation that he first started learning when he was still a young boy. He knows that it starts by capturing the very last breath of the person who you want to bring back, and he knows that the process will require many difficult to obtain ingredients but he is determined that he will get to the point of reanimation in time.

Catherine de Medici has been accused of many things both in her lifetime and since her death. She was accused of witchcraft and of poisoning her rivals, and the author skilfully shows how these things might have come to be and what a master perfumer's whose only loyalty is to the queen who saved his life all those years ago role could have been. Even when he comes to love a lady in waiting from the court, it is Catherine who seems to have the last word on the fate of lovestruck Rene.

As part of her research, Jac is taken to Rene's home. She is immediately drawn to the scents that she finds there, quickly locating secret rooms where she finds the perfumers workshop, pretty much untouched in 500 years. She knows that she needs the expertise that Griffin North, the only man she has ever loved, and with whom she believes she has been linked over many lifetimes, many of them ending in tragedy. Jac knows that she has placed Griffin in danger before and so she is determined not to do so again, but Griffin may have other ideas, especially as he is determined to prove once and for all that they belong together.

This is a thriller, so you do have good guys and bad guys, and sometimes people who are both. There is tension and danger and crime and in that regard it works. The most fascinating aspect though is that around scents, particularly the more unusual ingredients that come from very obscure sources like the ambergris which comes from the digestive systems of sperm whales. I find the discussion about how this particular ingredient would likely react different chemically today than it did 500 years before because of how different the environment is quite interesting, and there were numerous other titbits liek that scattered through the book.

I just wanted to mention something about The Book of Lost Fragrances. As I have mentioned, I read this book after I read the subsequent book. Actually I didn't read it but rather I listened to it on audio where it was narrated by the always excellent Phil Gigante. I think it is a sign of a truly excellent narrator if you can still hear their voices when you read other books in the series months down the track. That was particularly true for Griffin's voice!

To me, the end of this book very much felt like the end of this particular thread of story for Jac, although of course I could be completely wrong. It just felt like a good place to leave here. I will therefore be interested to see what M J Rose does next with this series.

Rating 4/5

About the Tour

Tour Schedule:
Tour Hashtag: #DyingBreathsTour
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About the Book

Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Atria Books
Hardcover; 384p
ISBN-10: 1451621531

From one of America’s most imaginative storytellers comes a passionate tale of love and treachery, spanning the days of Catherine de Medici’s court to the twenty-first century and starring a woman drawn back, time and again, to the past.

In 1533, an Italian orphan with an uncanny knack for creating fragrance is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. To repay his debt, over the years RenĂ© le Florentine is occasionally called upon to put his vast knowledge to a darker purpose: the creation of deadly poisons used to dispatch the Queen’s rivals.

But it’s RenĂ©’s other passion—a desire to reanimate a human breath, to bring back the lives of the two people whose deaths have devastated him—that incites a dangerous treasure hunt five centuries later. That’s when Jac L’Etoile—suffering from a heartache of her own—becomes obsessed with the possibility of unlocking Rene’s secret to immortality.

Soon Jac’s search reconnects her with Griffin North, a man she’s loved her entire life. Together they confront an eccentric heiress whose art collection rivals many museums and who is determined to keep her treasures close at hand, not just in this life but in her next.

Set in the forest of Fontainebleau, crisscrossing the lines between the past and the present, M.J. Rose has written a mesmerizing tale of passion and obsession. This is a gothic tale perfect for fans of Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Diana Galbadon.


  1. Glad you enjoyed this Marg - I am looking forward to diving into my copy very soon. My tour stop is in May.