A review by Nalini Haynes
Rakel is a poor teenager with a gift for creating perfumes alongside creativity that has resulted developing unique skills when harvesting and processing the plants that are her ingredients. She sells her products on the black market, which has its risks. Her father is dying of the Rot, a flesh-eating disease that is eating away at his body. Rakel’s desperation leads her to gamble ten years of her life in servitude in exchange for an opportunity to compete to become an elite apprentice perfumer, an opportunity to compete that is usually only open to those from wealthy families. Rakel’s talents are key in Shadowscent.
Ash is bodyguard to the crown prince. Both the prince and Ash know his secret, but neither know what it means. While the prince researches to save his friend, Ash watches court intrigue and the prince’s back.
Rakel and Ash cross paths when everything goes horrendously awry, threatening those they love and the security of the empire.
Shadowscent is sent in a fantasy world with an empire comprising ancient historical cultures like some around the Mediterranean. Like many fantasy stories with such a world to explore, our heroes embark on a quest that leads them through most of the lands. However, Shadowscent shows key scenes and paints long journeys with broad brushstrokes so the narrative keeps moving.
Freestone keeps faith with her protagonists too. Rakel’s primary sense is smell; Freestone’s playful transformation of traditional sayings are, at times, almost comedic. Someone cannot smell the forest for the pines, for example.
Characters differentiate though: Rakel cannot stand Ash’s use of multiple perfumes in his religious practice. Being relatively inured to scent, Ash is oblivious. Nor does his idiom refer to scent: Ash is more focused on sight and strength.
With the Rot afflicting people across the empire, Shadowscent’s protagonists continually engage with issues of disability. People discriminate against those with the Rot, but Rakel challenges these attitudes by caring for her father; commenting that the disease is not readily contagious; periodically helping the afflicted other than her father; and generally in her thoughts. Rakel discovers that the government imprisons afflicted commoners in the deepest bowels of a dungeon in the capitol city. Rakel is shocked, horrified by such treatment.
Thanks to Rakel’s attitudes, my only criticism of Freestone’s handling of disability is when someone who is on crutches after a physically debilitating experience then gets up and walks hundreds of miles. At that point, the focus is on wrapping up this instalment of the story, including placing characters ‘on the board’ in preparation for part two. This needs to be taken in balance with Freestone’s otherwise careful handling of disability issues.
Shadowscent is an epic historical fantasy novel with engaging characters and delightful world building. The next instalment is scheduled for release in 2020. I recommend Shadowscent that is, in my opinion, suitable for readers from high school to maturity. It looks like it’s out in the UK and Australia with the USA release coming in November.
Rating: 4 stars
ISBN: 1407192159 (ISBN13: 9781407192154)
Format: paperback, 448pp
Category: Young Adult, fantasy