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Review: Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom by P. M. Freestone

Review: Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom by P. M. Freestone

‘In the empire of Aramtesh, scent has power.

When disaster strikes and the crown prince lies poisoned, long suppressed rivalries threaten to blow the empire apart.

It’s up to a poor village girl with a talent for fragrances and the prince’s loyal bodyguard to find an antidote.

To succeed, the unlikely pair must uncover secrets – cryptic, ancient tales as well as buried truths from their own pasts – in an adventure that will ignite your senses.’

One of the many things that I loved about Shadowscent is that the journey that the reader may think Rakel is going to undertake early in the novel – or at least the journey that Rakel wants to begin – is not the one that she ultimately ends up going on. The adventure that circumstance has her travel along is one that is much more vast, dangerous and vital to unlocking the secrets of not only her history, but those of characters she works most closely with and her world as a whole. She is engaging and intriguing as a main character, her upbringing and current situation one that forces her to project a more arrogant and confident front than her true self to ensure survival, and while the paths of many YA characters have them learning to embrace their gifts/talents and gaining that sharper edge, hers is a more nuanced one that sees her learning more about people and how she interacts with those around her, while embracing a talent that she already has that confidence in.

Political intrigue is something that I’m always pleased to find in a novel, for it opens up the opportunity to consider ethics and what a variety of viewpoints see as right and wrong. That Nisai does not have the ‘typical’ mindset expected of him by many of those who surround the ruling family presents the chance to explore the behaviour that conflict and subjugation of peoples invites of humanity compared to the effect of diplomacy, empathy and a more scholarly evaluation of various situations, which also allows for the analysis of why the latter are unfortunately so often seen as ‘weaker’ ways of dealing with matters. Nisai’s approach to the lands and peoples that he will one day rule is one that sees him perceived as lacking in strength, leading some to try and force him to embrace what their idea of leadership and masculinity is – with varying impacts.

Ash’s story is perhaps the one that is revealed the most slowly, owing to the fact that he is the one who stands to lose the most by having the truth revealed or even dwelling on it for too long. I don’t wish to reveal spoilers, so I will say little about his history, but his strength of character is shown in his dedication primarily to Nisai and his duty – that is, not to his job, but to the protection of his friend and others that he grows to care for.

The writing itself is a beautiful in its sensory nature, its particular strengths in scent (as suggested by the title), colour and the creation of a tactile nature of usually intangible things. The world-building is another of Shadowscent’s strengths, in that the journey across different lands that Rakel and Ash undertake is one painted vividly in the locations that they visit – and for what they visit them – and doesn’t feel like a flitting from place to place. The scent-based system of power and its place in the world is a fantastic take on a magic system and ultimately very compelling, in that it ties the reader to the story in a way that is familiar and through the experience of scent in a way that cannot be achieved solely with description of magic and otherworldly powers. The use of mythology and its own world-based history is another huge selling point for me: I adore stories that let me go back to my Classicist/Egyptologist roots.

Thank you to Scholastic UK for my copy of Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom! The book is out in the UK in February 2019 and presently set for an autumn release in the US. If you love fantasy and are looking for a unique twist on magic systems and a tale with adventure, mystery and characters driven by what lurks in their pasts, Shadowscent is the book for you.