MJ Rose: The Collector of Dying Breaths
What would you do if you could preserve the last dying breath of someone you loved and use it to reincarnate their soul? How would you know if that person was living within the body of another and reincarnate that dying breath to bring back someone you love? Using special bottles to catch the person’s last breath and mixing it with a uniquely created elixir, Rene le Florentine hopes to bring back the two people in the world he loved the most. Within his dark laboratory for over 40 years he’s been haunted by the memories of a woman whose love made him whole. Closing his eyes he recalls the minute that she entered a room wearing a pair of gloves he created thinking they were for another only to learn the harsh reality about a betrayal and deceit that would haunt him forever. Trust is hard to come by when living in fear all of his life. Dealing with the wants of others Rene fell prey to the wiles of one woman so powerful, cunning and cruel that he never saw what she had planned.
Dom Serapino was the man who devised the plan or method to capture someone’s dying breath. On the shelves of his laboratory if you look closely you will see dozens of openmouthed bottles with corks ready to be used by the collector. Filling the bottle one breath at time, corking it and then waiting for that person to die, could take reusing, rinsing and recorking the bottles many times. With his last dying breath Dom Serapino ordered Rene to use the potion that he created to help him ease his pain and join others in eternity. But, when the reality sets in as to the deed he had done what others decide will shock the apprentice. Dom Beneto, the abbot instead of listening to our young apprentice and understanding that he was honoring Serapino’s last wishes locks him within the cell along with the body to await his fate. Taking the bottles of captured breaths, breaking them, destroying the work of this monk, Rene found himself alone. Charged with the job by his mentor to find the secret to reincarnating breaths, he would never give up until the answers were found. But, what no one saw was the notebook with the unfinished formula and the bottle with Serapino’s dying breath that this monk clutched so dearly.
Within the lab of any perfumers he creates scents that are often unique to a specific person. Imagine entering a room of blindfolded people and each one knowing that you have entered just by the scent/perfume you have lightly sprayed on yourself. The powerful scent fills the entire room as each person slowly removes their blindfold. Everyone in this room has their own special perfume that was created just for them. What happens when our young orphan, René le Florentine, decides to continue the work of his mentor? His life on the line and his hopes for the future in the hands of others he never expects to be freed. But, life throws you many different curves and just when Rene thought he was about to be sentenced someone comes in and frees him. Within this novel we meet many dangerous, cunning and deceitful people but none so clever or devious as Catherine de Medici. Her purpose appears to be innocent yet in time will prove sinister. Rene’s training extensive her motive deadly as he is asked to create special scents, fragrances for her and many others using his special ingredients and abilities. Formulating and recreating scents using flowers, chemicals, roses, lemons, jasmine, tutty and ambergris, a perfumer of the magnitude of Rene was indispensible, so he thought.
The Collector of Dying Breaths is a complex story that takes place during two time periods. Within the Italian monastery in the 16th century we’ve met Rene le Florentine as he captures the last dying breath of his mentor. Wrongly accused of his murder joining the court of Catherine de Medici would be his salvation so he thought.
What would you do if your brother’s last wish mirrored what Rene was doing in the past? Robbie L’Etoile succumbed to a painful death. When investigated no one could come up with a direct cause. Was it murder or was he just ill? Jac L’Etoile, his sister was at his side as he voiced his final request. Asking her to go to a specific estate and collect his books, notes, and journals, Jac would enter a world that would change her life forever. Having just completed filming the last episode for the season of her cable TV show, she reluctantly agrees to what her brother requests. Hidden beneath the walls, cellars, doors, and recesses of an old estate lies secrets that when revealed would change Jac’s life and that of someone close to her. When the past becomes her present what happens to Jac would put her in danger as she learns what her brother’s work was and the hope that using her keen sense of scent, can recreate the formula that Rene le Florentine never finished and find a way to use dying breaths to reincarnate someone from the past.
Deciding to learn more she travels to the estate of Serge Grise and his stepsister Melione Cyrus. Outer appearances are deceiving. Melione presents an image that is cold, austere but foreboding. Her demeanor, manner of speech, dress and provides a backdrop for events that will make you shudder. Arriving at the estate, Le Belle Fleur, Jac is lured and enticed by these oddly paired siblings into continuing what her brother started. Every step of the way she questions their motives and in her mind, finds their relationship unsettling and their manner or actions bizarre. As she begins to collect her brother’s bottles, books and journals visions of the past and of Rene le Florentine flood her mind. Flashbacks to the past are revealed each time she is within the wine cellar, touring the grounds and an unsettling feeling of doom overtakes her.
But, in the past. Catherine has other ideas for Rene now that she rescued him. Unstable and yet Rene’s best friend and his savior he enjoys life within her court, creates potions that are deadly knowing they would rid her of her rivals and as he becomes a integral part of the life of the crown. But, his own lab or store is where he creates his magic potions and is what makes him so valuable to the nobility and rich. Imagine a scent made of lemons, roses, whale vomit or lavender, pepper, orange or musk. Each one special and some created just for one person and others for more. Every step of the way the author brilliantly describes the scents and if you close your eyes and take in the air you too will smell what Rene created. The vivid descriptions are so sensual and breathtaking you can almost feel the glass bottle they are housed in and the special scent as you place it on your skin. Jac has her own affinity with perform when she places it on her skin. She is magical as she understands what scents belong together, has her own special way of dealing with the perfumes and her olfactory senses are sharper than most perfumers.
A specific scene in the estate brings Jac and Rene together as she imagines them united in a love scene that will take your breath away as she envisions him in his lab and then in her bed. Was he really in her life? Was he reincarnated as someone in the present? The scents trigger her memories bringing her sadness, sorrow and unhappiness. Convinced that she needs help she reconnects with Griffin North, the man she loved and still does so dearly hoping that he can unlock the secrets hidden beneath the folds of the pages of her brother’s journal. Hoping he can translate the papers and learn what so many want how to reincarnate a person’s dying breath.
Deciding to stay at the estate and taking a trip with Serge down to the wine cellar reveals a hidden door. Behind the door is the key to what they might have been looking for all this time as she finds bell jars with the scents, Rene Biano’s journal with his formulas and will enlist Griffin to find out what they mean. But, will this help reconnect him or will she still blame herself for the past? As she opens Robbie’s notebook and begins to assess his work memories of the past come into play as she sees Rene working in his lab and begins to wonder just what the connection might be.
While Jac is working in the present and sharing her findings with Serge and Melinoe, Griffin is at her side trying to find a way back into her life while helping her, Catherine has other ideas for Rene. As time passes he becomes so ensconced in her court and so invaluable that he never sees what is about to happen. Traitors are everywhere and what she requests next he cannot refuse. As Catherine becomes more powerful, paranoid and suspicious of many around her, she decides to eliminate anyone that she feels will endanger France, go against the church as she sees it and she feels is a traitor. With Rene’s help she hopes he will create fragrances that will eliminate these people giving them a painful death.
A group of women called her flying squadron are spies that lure unsuspecting men into telling them secrets while planning their demise. Cunning, beautiful and smart the unsuspecting man has no clue about their motive or mission until it’s too late. Rene is smart, and grateful to Catherine and has no choice to create these deadly poisons of find himself out favor. But, not everyone close to her wants him around and the court astrologer would love nothing more than to have him removed. Filling her head with his magic, his potions and odd thoughts Ruggieri remains powerful until Rene finds a way to have him banished.
While Jac learns more about Robbie’s work joining Serge and Melinoe on several trips to acquire the ingredients needed to complete his work, the eye opening experiences alert her that these two are quite dangerous, that the end result will mean someone’s life and her hope to fulfill her brother’s wishes is no longer her choice but a demand. Would you risk it all for what she is doing? Would you create a potion to rid yourself of your enemies if you had the means to do it? What price would you pay for immortality?
Isabeau Allard is one of the members of Catherine’s flying squadron and when she enters Rene’s shop he is more than taken with her. Learning more about her job, how she works intrigues him to the point of no return. Death potions are his skills and delivering them to the victim hers. What happens when what he creates touches the skin of a victim will give you chills? How does she justify his actions?
An ending so explosive and a woman determined for immortality at all costs. Is Jac really a memory tool? What happens when you inhale the dying breath of a person mixed with an elixir? What is the secret to bringing someone back? Read The Collector of Dying Breaths to find out. A story filled with mystery, magic, revenge, hope, love, and just maybe a special scent as only author MJ Rose can deliver.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer