Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Scent of Shadows by Vicki Petterson (4/5 stars)

The Scent of Shadows is the First Sign of the Zodiac; the first book in Petterson’s Zodiac series. This book exceeded my expectations. I was braced for yet another paranormal series featuring an angsty heroine; but what I got was so much more than that. This book is something both men and women would greatly enjoy; it is much more of a super hero story than a paranormal romance.

Joanna Archer is an heiress. Her father Xavier Archer is a Las Vegas tycoon who owns a number of casinos in Las Vegas. Joanna’s sister, Olivia, is more your typical playboy bunny type of heiress, while Joanna is kind of the black sheep in the family. In her early teens Joanna suffered a devastating attack that left her different, more brooding than her fun loving sister Olivia. Joanna turned to photography; taking pictures of the dark side of Las Vegas. Then the day before her 25th birthday she was attacked on a blind date, only to be rescued by her childhood sweetheart Ben – now a cop. What Joanna didn’t know was that the streets of Las Vegas were not what they seemed to be, and on her 25th birthday she would undergo a change that she had never imaged.

This is a well-written, fast-paced book. What I really liked though is the complexity and creativity of the Zodiac troop and their alternate realities. This book left behind many typical paranormal series subjects and took me somewhat unexpectedly into the realm of comic book heroes. With the Zodiac troop zipping in and out of alternate realities there was a little sci-fi in here too. The Zodiac fighters of both the Light and Dark troops are intriguing; their powers very superhero-like and also very varied. The comic books that serve as their newspapers are creative, comical, and intriguing. The epic struggle of Light and Dark in a city constantly balanced on the edge of sin is compelling. Joanna is a complicated character, as are many of the characters presented to us in the Zodiac troop.

The major story arc is nicely resolved; but a large number of side stories are left unresolved, leaving me yearning for the next book.

I did have a couple issues with this book. The first is that it *is* complicated. The set-up is a bit confusing, although to Petterson’s credit the idea behind the Zodiac troop is complicated, creative, and something very new to her readers. So, I expected the set-up to take a bit of time for me to be comfortable with; I am happy to say by the end of the book I did understand it and ceased to feel slightly confused. My other complaint with the book would be that the characters superhero powers are not well defined. I am still not quite sure I understand what Joanna’s power is, I am not quite sure I understand what the other characters powers are either. Maybe Petterson wants the unveiling of their powers to be deliberate and purposeful, or maybe she just did a poor job of conveying them in the story…time will tell which it is.

That being said I think this book is much better than the Anna Strong Chronicles or the Mercy Thompson series. It is not quite as good as Kim Harrion’s series. It is more on par with the Dante Valentine books. I hope that the future books can continue to elaborate on this story; I also hope that Joanna doesn’t fall into the pit of darkness that Dante Valentine did and continues to show the Light in her character.

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