From the Publisher
Praise for Scent of Darkness
“Anyone with a nose can tell you that pheromones are dangerous. But in this Louisiana-based novel, Scent of Darkness, Evangeline learns that lesson the hard way. When her grandmother dies, she leaves behind a perfume, created from Evangeline's own scent, that makes this plain girl so irresistible that strangers bury their faces in her hair. Soon she's torn between Gabriel, a quiet student, and Michael, a fiery artist. Berwin captures New Orleans’ mystical juju perfectly.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Elegant, introspective . . . [A] sumptuous faux memoir—a story of first love, obsession, youthful sexuality and coming of age. . . . Buy this pungent romance for your niece’s graduation, then try to look innocent when she elopes with the postman.” —Carolyn See, The Washington Post
“Profound thoughts are deeply explored by the protagonist Evangeline (aka Eva) in Scent of Darkness. . . . Fascinating . . . Which path will Eva choose and with what outcome? Will the powerful scent be used for evil or good? To answer this question would be to give away the twists and turns in Scent of Darkness—and that would certainly be unfair, for Scent of Darkness is thoroughly engrossing.” —Laura Schultz, New York Journal of Books
“Berwin follows Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire with a tale about the mysterious and luscious world of the aromata, professional perfume makers. . . . Berwin’s prose is poetic and measured, and her enchanting novel will leave readers searching for a scent of their own.” —Amber Peckham, Booklist
“Berwin’s Creole-flavored romance . . . will provide plenty of pleasure to readers who enjoy a touch of magical realism in their fiction. Fans of such atmospheric writers as Alice Hoffman will find much to enjoy here.” —Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal
“In Scent of Darkness, Berwin has created a compelling story surrounded by the mysterious and exotic world of New Orleans, where tarot cards foretell what’s yet to be, and fragrance is viewed as an ethereal, mystical creation capable of changing one’s life forever. . . . Can a person truly be only of darkness, or of light? Or is it possible that we're all a little bit of both?” —Amber Castens, The News-Gazette
Praise for Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire
“The great escapist novel . . . [A] shameless guilty pleasure of a romp that involves black panthers, poisonous snakes, scorpions, and the Adonis-like son of a Huichol Indian shaman . . . [A] sultry, psychedelic summer soufflé of a read.”—Elle
“Sensual, voluptuous . . . Berwin vividly evokes the mosquito-loud, velvety blackness of a rain forest night.” —National Geographic Traveler
“Berwin makes a clever imaginative leap in her first novel, creating her own horticultural myth and then fashioning a lively novel around it.” —The Boston Globe
“Take two parts Carlos Castañeda, one part Sunset garden book, and top with a splash of Indiana Jones . . . Shameless, sweet, and deceptively potent.” —Santa Fe New Mexican
“Seductive interludes and exotic adventures define Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire . . . A guide on plant mythology, spirit animals, curanderos (healers) and the mystery that can guide us to spiritual discovery, if only we open up to it.” —Austin American-Statesman
“A psychedelic adventure.” —The Wall Street Journal
“[A] grown-up fairy tale full of mysticism, shamans, and animal spirits. Light and breezy, it’s also full of romance.” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Mesmerizing . . . transports the reader to the dark, hot bayous of Louisiana, where Tarot card readers, fortune tellers and healers populate the story . . the setting of New Orleans exudes the smells, sounds and sights that only Louisiana can conjure up. Engulfed in the heady mix of scents and lust, Evangeline learns that sometimes what looks like a gift can turn out to be a curse . . . sensual.”
—Shelley Civkin, Richmond Review
Evangeline is a wallflower, always blending into the background and never really noticed by anyone. Her grandmother Louise is the exact opposite: a perfumier, with a deep belief in fortune-telling, voodoo, and other occult arts. When she dies, Louise leaves Eva a special gift: a scent created especially for her. But this is no ordinary perfume; once applied, it won’t come off, and suddenly Evangeline finds herself thrust into the limelight. Now the heroine in her own mystical adventure, swept into the exotic surroundings of New Orleans and Louisiana voodoo, Eva is caught between two lovers and must choose only one. But which man—the light or the dark—will win her heart?
Verdict Berwin’s Creole-flavored romance (after her best-selling debut Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire) will provide plenty of pleasure to readers who enjoy a touch of magical realism in their fiction. Fans of such atmospheric writers as Alice Hoffman will find much to enjoy here. [See Prepub Alert, 8/16/12.]—Leigh Wright, Bridgewater, NJ
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The bequest of a mysterious vial transforms a woman into a scent seductress. Evangeline, whose grandmother Louise has just died, does not consider herself particularly beautiful or talented. Louise, who was known to practice dark arts, leaves Evangeline her house in upstate New York (Louise moved from New Orleans years before). When Evangeline enters a room she vowed never to unlock, she discovers a small bottle of perfume, which, when applied, imparts an irresistible scent. Suddenly, Gabriel, a man previously out of her league, is her lover, and together, they move to New Orleans where he is a medical student. Once there, Evangeline encounters all manner of signs and omens, such as a dire tarot-card prophecy that she will spread evil and break hearts. The city itself, forever hot and steamy, echoes Evangeline's turbulent state of mind as she finds herself inexorably drawn to Gabriel's friend, Michael Bon Chance, a charismatic but mediocre painter who seeks to exploit Evangeline's fragrance to catapult him into the upper echelons of the art world. At Michael's triumphant show, consisting mainly of nudes of Evangeline painted without her knowledge, Gabriel walks away in disgust. Before Evangeline can explain, a dog bites her, and the wound festers. (Bringing out aggression in dogs is an unfortunate side effect of her pheromone-rich aura.) Now she must rely on the quirky 14-year-old son of a neighbor she has never met to take her to his grandmother, who practices her own version of the dark arts. Evangeline soon finds that her olfactory attractiveness does not compensate for the yawning void in her soul, but she will be hard-pressed to learn the lesson Louise intended to impart with her gift. Although evoking the peculiar exoticism of New Orleans with precision, Berwin's prose labors hard to impart profundity to what is basically a pastiche of gothic staples (the forbidden room, the never-seen invalid mother, etc.). An overly stylized parable with intermittent flashes of pleasant spookiness.
Read an Excerpt
My name is Eva, from the longer and more beautiful Evangeline. I had something very special once, something that I took for granted and lost. I set out to find it again, and as so often happens, it was right there in front of me. Or should I say it was right there inside of me, running through my veins like a blessing, or a plague.
Jasmine smells like human flesh. Mix it with cumin, which smells like sweat, and you have the scent of sex. If you spread it on your body, watch out, you’ll have sycophants all over the place, people crawling out of the woodwork to be close to you.
Human beings are defenseless against scent. They can’t hide from it because they can’t see it, or touch it, or hold it. All by itself it crawls into their brains, and by the time they’re in love with it, or the person it’s coming from, it’s too late. They’re tied to it forever, through the long, tight leash of memory.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that a great scent, like a great love, can crash onto the shore of your life like a wave, creating either damage or change or, in my case, both.
What happened when I came across a scent like that was that I fell in love with two men at the same time, and one was pure evil, and one was good. It was an old- fashioned love triangle. A classic tale that came up roses, and jasmine, and, of course, tears.
So, my name is Eva, from the longer and more beautiful Evangeline. And for me, the scent I found held my past, present, and future in its ethereal little hand.
I don’t mean to be morbid and mostly I’m not, but it is possible to love someone evil. I know that for a fact. I wish I didn’t, but wishing isn’t going to change my story.
It happened during my eighteenth year, when I was too young to know that there are events and relationships that never go away. That you can never take back. That change you in ways over which you have no control.
My grandmother Louise, the person I was closest to, would say that none of that mattered anyway. That who we love isn’t a question of good or evil, but one of scent.
“Scent can do crazy things to the mind,” she said. “It can make us love people we shouldn’t and turn away those we should. It can make us desire the child of a criminal and shun the overtures of a saint. Never open your legs for a man whose mind you love but only for the man whose scent you can’t live without. That’s the one you’ll stay with forever.”
I’d spent every summer of my childhood with Louise, but it was the summer of my eighteenth year that changed everything. That was the beginning of all the danger and the beauty and the blood.
Louise lived in the town of Cyril, which sat on a mountaintop in the westernmost part of New York State. It was a small town with only one road used for both directions, so it was said that the way in was also the way out.
The houses of Cyril were made of great gray stone slabs and ]enormous fi replaces, which never seemed to make them warm. They stood in a circle, huddled together on the flat top of a low mountain overlooking an evergreen forest. Look up and the sun was shining. Look down and it was a midnight of trees.
The physical description of the town would not be important to my story except for the fact that Louise was an aromata, a master in the creation of scent. A sorceress of nothing, as she liked to call herself, for scent has no physical form.
She chose to live in Cyril because she liked when the wind whipped through the evergreens. When the cool smell of the pine needles blew through the windows of her house, which she called the Stone Crow, and erased any trace of her art from the noses of neighbors too interested.
“Neve forget, Evangeline,” she said, “those who make perfume consider themselves magicians of the highest order. They believe the scents they make possess the power to turn hate into love. Neutrality into desire. They don’t share their choice of ingredients with anyone. They lock the doors to their laboratories with precision locks made by master craftsmen and later they kill those very same men so that no one will ever know the combination. Not a living soul.”
“I’ll remember that, Louise,” I said.
I called her by her first name at her insistence. She thought “Grandmother” was too formal and put too many years between us, making it impossible for us to be friends.
“Put irises next to your mother’s bed,” she told me, “and she’ll bring you a baby brother. Add a drop of lavender to the wash water and you’ll dream of the man you’ll love. Eucalyptus makes you taller, almondine fatter, and jasmine— oh, jasmine will wrap your entire life in a mystery.”
“Do you believe that?” I asked.
“Not all of it. But it’s true what they say about jasmine. If it comes from southern India, look out. Wear it often enough and I swear you won’t recognize your own life. You’ll be so confused about who you are you won’t be able to pick your face out of a crowd in your own dream.”