So I read The Scent of Shadows: The First Sign of the Zodiac by Vicki Pettersson.  I picked it up expecting a really bad Laurell K Hamilton knock off, and I thought it might be good for a laugh.  I immediately put it in the popcorn book category- something I would breeze through and that wouldn’t leave much of an impression on me.  I didn’t expect for it to enrage me halfway through.  It did, and I put the book down and read something that was less likely to make me throw the book across the room.

So when I picked it back up, planning on reading it to make fun of it and talk about it here, I didn’t expect to end up wanting to get the next one.  Yeah, I liked this book enough that I will probably give the author more monies.  The book has its issues, and I’ll get to them, but when I finished the book I realized I wanted to read the next book in the series.  So, why did I change my mind?

It’s… complicated.  And it means I am going to have to get into some depth to address it, but all in all I liked it.  I plan on spending more money on this franchise, and I won’t make an argument about the books being fine literature but they don’t reuse the same mythological monsters that we’re seeing all over.  The first book features nary a vampire nor werewolf, which is pretty refreshing considering the times.

I feel obligated to point out that from here on out I’m going to be discussing intimate plot details, and that Spoilers lay ahead.

This book is about a character named Joanna Archer.  When she was 16 she was brutally raped and left for dead in the desert, and not much longer after that her mother (Zoe) left her, reducing her family to her father Xavier, her sister Olivia, and herself.  Xavier Archer is a big rich-ass game mogul, and Olivia is the favored child.  Joanna and Xavier only are barely civil to each other, and we early on find out that Joanna is not really his daughter.  This occurs on the day of her 25th birthday, which also contains: the death of her sister, and the moment when she kills the man for revenge, a moment where her whole body shifts into her third lifecycle, although that isn’t explained to her until later.

She’s recruited by this gang of superheroes and finds out all about how she’s part of a tribe of superheros, but even among the Light Zodiac she’s unique- she is the daughter of their Sagittarius sign and so can inherit that spot, but she also could inherit her father’s place on the Shadow Zodiac.  In order to protect and hide her from the Shadow Zodiac, they give her a new identity- that of her freshly dead sister.  (More on that later)

She represents the first sign of what’s to come, and nobody’s really sure that they trust her because of the Shadow in her.  This isn’t just ‘my dad’s a bad guy’ but the Shadow and Light are different kinds of beings, they heal super fast and the like.  So when Joanna enters their secret hideout, she is terribly injured by the defenses to keep the Shadow out.

Long story cut short, in the end she wins a temporary respite for the Zodiac, she accepts her role as her mother’s daughter, and begins to look ahead.

Again, all in all I like it.  Joanna is a strong character with her own flaws, and I can respect that.  She’s why I kept reading in the first place.  There are a couple of minor little things- slip ups I feel unnecessary to point out because they could easily be explained in the next book (which I will be getting) or are the mistakes of a novice author instead of lazy writing.

The big weltering piece of thing that made me ragequit the book the first time was when they did the surgery to transform Joanna into Olivia.  From that part on out she’s referred to as Olivia- she is going to wear her dead sister’s face until (I guess) they decide she doesn’t need it anymore.  LIST TIME.

1: In order to keep from being tracked down by their opposites in the Shadow Zodiac, members of the Light Zodiac are supposed to keep their feelings on an even keel- the darker emotions will leak the right kind of pheromones to lead the Shadow to them, and it puts their life in danger.  So, let me make sure you understand: EVERY TIME SHE LOOKS IN THE MIRROR SHE SEES HER BELOVED SISTER WHO IS DEAD.

2: Joanna’s reaction- her reaction wasn’t horror and revulsion because OH GOD OLIVIA NO I CAN’T DO THIS but ‘OH BUT I LOOK SO WEAK’ and I realize that she’s sort of built herself up over the years but the whole scene just came off as really unrealistic to me.  While I’ve no doubt that Joanna doesn’t like being perceived as weak, I highly doubt that would be her first reaction.  I’m sorry, but if I woke up looking like my DEAD SISTER for whose death I feel responsible for you’d be hard pressed to keep me from cutting my own face off with broken pieces of mirror.

However, Joanna after she gets back into the world (subsequent to her face and body-altering surgery) deals with her problems in a much more realistic way, and she does this ‘accepting what happened and looking forward’ thing I can get behind.  The main villain is a Tulpa, which is a refreshingly unfamiliar term and is a sort of thought-Golem, from what I understand.  I skimmed the wikipedia page on it, but I decided to just roll with the mythology the book laid out after confirming that this was actually a real term.

I kinda dig that I didn’t figure out who the inside man was until Joanna outright accused her, generally I am three plot points ahead so I’m always pleasantly surprised when I’m… surprised.  (Paging the redundancy department of redundancy.)

Joanna has a superhero mask that does two things.  A: keeps the bad guys from figuring out who she is and B: keeps her eyes from melting out of her skull when she goes in and out of the good guys’ secret hideout.  Which I find highly awesome.

There are a couple of things that were brought up that are going to have bearing in future books (because I am apparently MADE OF LISTS sorry):

1: There was a child as a result of Joanna’s rape that she gave up for adoption.  Probably a daughter, and she’s got the Zodiac Light and Shadow blood in her.  Although Joanna kind of ignores it the whole book, it’ll come up in the future, especially since Joanna first really acknowledges that there’s a kid out there about to enter her second life-cycle.

2: Xavier, Joanna and Olivia’s father, has a room full of Tibetan prayer stuff, which seems incongruous until you know about the Tulpa- I don’t think this is the last we’ve heard of all the prayer wheels.

3: Ben Traina, Joanna’s childhood sweetheart, was a minor character introduced at the beginning.  He and Joanna started a tryst right before the death of Olivia, which (to the world) seems to be the death of Joanna.  Ben was really fucked up, especially since Joanna visited him after her supposed murder, and he’s quit the force and started doing a private eye thing.  (As a side not, Ben said some really kinda of victim-blamey things in the beginning, but as you get to know him I think it’s clear that it’s part of his character and not actually an author thing- and when it’s not directed at Joanna she calls him out on it and he admits he’s not being fair.) Jo-Livia can’t help but wonder if Ben becoming a private eye is going to make his life darker, or maybe make things harder on her as he investigates her sister’s death.  I will say that the relationship with Ben is well-handled, I thought after Joanna ‘died’ that Ben was going to be mysteriously attracted to Olivia and they would pick up where they left off, but that did not happen.

4: When Joanna saw Ben, she took something out of his photo album of his younger days (a photo of her, her Mom and her sister) and left a note.  I don’t think he’s found it yet, and I was going to point it out as a plot flaw, but I doubt he’s looked in that album so soon.  He’ll discover it eventually, and he’ll come to Olivia about it no doubt.

5: There’s a person who was slated to take Joanna’s place if they couldn’t find her in the Light Zodiac, and now that Joanna is there the other gal has to figure out how else to be part of the group.  She’s a little upset about this, and it’s going to come up again, but I hope it comes up in a way that is unexpected.

Anyway, I plan on continuing in this series and reading them more, this may not be to your taste but I really enjoyed it.  It has an actual unique supernatural storyline, which is somewhat hard to find.

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