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Scent of Darkness: A Novel

Scent of Darkness: A Novel

3.5 6
by Margot Berwin

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In her best-selling debut, Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, Margot Berwin brought us to the rain forests of Mexico—to a land of shamans, spirit animals, and snake charmers—in the search for nine rare and valuable plants. Now, with her hotly anticipated second novel, Berwin takes us somewhere darker: deep into the bayous of


In her best-selling debut, Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, Margot Berwin brought us to the rain forests of Mexico—to a land of shamans, spirit animals, and snake charmers—in the search for nine rare and valuable plants. Now, with her hotly anticipated second novel, Berwin takes us somewhere darker: deep into the bayous of Louisiana, to a world of fortune-tellers, soothsayers, and potent elixirs. Scent of Darkness is a magical, seductive story about the power of scent, and about what happens when a perfume renders a young woman irresistible.
Evangeline grows up understanding the extraordinary effects of fragrance. Her grandmother Louise is a gifted aromata, a master of scent-making and perfume. When Eva was a girl, Louise carefully explained that lavender under her pillow would make her dream of the man she would marry; eucalyptus would make her taller; almandine, fatter; and jasmine, Louise promised, would wrap her life in a mystery. When Eva is eighteen, Louise leaves her the ultimate gift—a scent created just for her. The small perfume vial is accompanied by a note in Louise’s slanted script: “Do not remove the stopper, Evangeline, unless you want everything in your life to change.”
From the moment Eva places a drop—the essence of fire, leather, rose, and jasmine—on her neck, men dance closer to her, women bury their noses deep into her hair, even the cats outside her bedroom cry to be near her. After a lifetime spent blending into the background, Eva is suddenly the object of intense desire to everyone around her. Strangers follow her down the street; a young boy appears at her door asking for a favor; and two men, one kind and good, the other dark and seductive, fall deeply, madly in love with her. As her greatest gift becomes an unbearable curse, Eva must uncover the secret of her scent and the message her grandmother, the woman who loved her most, wanted to tell her.
A bewitching tale of love, blood, power, and magic, Scent of Darkness is a wildly inventive novel that will seduce the reader’s every sense.

This ebook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.

Editorial Reviews

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

Library Journal
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

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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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
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.”

Meet the Author

Margot Berwin is the author of the best-selling novel Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. Her work has been translated into nineteen languages. She earned her MFA from the New School in 2005 and lives in New York City.

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Scent of Darkness: A Novel 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
StephWard More than 1 year ago
3.5 Stars 'Scent of Darkness' is a sensual and enticing contemporary romance novel that follows main character Evangeline - better known as "Eva" - as she receives her last gift from her grandmother - a perfume created solely for her. Eva's grandmother was an aromata - a gifted perfume creator. Once Eva places a drop of this scent on her skin, her life begins to change. She seems to attract men like flies to honey, drawing the attention of Gabriel - the guy Eva had been watching from a distance. It seems as though both men and women are drawn to Eva - to her very scent. When she meets Michael - an artist who is barely able to smell her, she wonders if she has finally met the one person who will love her for herself. This novel was an intriguing look into the mystical world of perfume and the mythological powers that scent can have. I enjoyed reading about the mythology behind different scents and about the lives of aromatas. The characters were decently formed, but didn't seem to be very deep or dimensional - except for Eva. She was an interesting main character, but did seem a bit stereotypical at times. The storyline was enchanting and definitely had intrigue mixed with mythology and definite romance. I thought the writing was well done and the book had an overall good pace. There was nothing wrong with the book in any sense, but it just didn't draw me in like I thought it would. Recommended for fans of romance and contemporary fiction. Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
RtBBlog More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by: April  Book provided by: Publisher Review originally posted at Romancing the Book A very unique story, Scent of Darkness is told in an abstract sort of way that almost leaves the interpretation of the story and its characters to the reader, allowing different readers to take away different ideas. This is how I felt as I read and finished the story in any case. The writing style that Margot Berwin uses in Scent of Darkness flows rather beautifully, almost like a novel in prose. Both of these aspects are what truly stand out for me and made the story unique and unlike anything else that I have read before. Was this a positive or a negative? Honestly, a bit of both. Let me explain. Overall, I enjoyed the story very much and found it to be entertaining. It was also a very quick read for me, grabbing from the beginning and intriguing me until the end. I also enjoyed the prose-like style. An example of the abstract type of prose is as follows: “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.” This is taken from the first page and sets a fairly representative tone of the entire story, I feel. Imagine a scent that is created just for you; a scent that takes over your body, your life and changes each and every aspect forever. Scent of Darkness is Eva’s story; the story of how a few drops of scent, created just for her, by her Grandmother, creeps through every pore, every vein, and every milliliter of her body. The effect not only changes her, but all of those around her – strangers, lovers, and friends, humans and animals are captivated and obsessed by Eva. Scent of Darkness is the story of how passion blinds and can create or destroy lives. I truly loved the way that the author uses scent and the craft of creating scent to weave her story. I found this rather fascinating to be honest. The character development was interesting and I found myself really liking Gabriel, the friend turned lover of Eva. Michael, the passionate and rather greedy artist I found to be both on the likeable side as well as the distasteful side. Eva, I simply could not attach myself to. I actually found myself wanting to smack her a few times because, to me, she seemed incredibly self-centered. Keep in mind, this is completely my own personal opinion and thoughts and others may find themselves intrigued and like Eva. I do want to say that I loved the ending and commend the author on the excellence of it. Overall, the story was very well crafted and enjoyable. I would recommend Scent of Darkness to anyone who enjoys paranormal/mystical types of stories and is looking for something unique. Would I read this author again? Yes, I would love to compare her writing style with this work with her other works.
salarsen More than 1 year ago
A sensual tale that bewitches the mind, tantalizes the heart, and stimulates the idea of a person's scent and how it truly effects others. The premise of scent intrigued me from the start. We've heard of pheromones and how they invisibly affect people, but I'd never thought of scent and its abilities. Many vivid descriptions were used throughout the book to draw the reader into the plausibility of this theme. Mentions of the Bayon and New Orleans, Cypress swamps and marshes carry an eerie and mysterious scent of its own. The reader is drawn to more intrigue as the setting deepens, permeating a strange yet teasing aroma. Eva has a soft, distant, and almost guarded relationship with her grandmother. Although there is current action between the two, most was given in hindsight and Eva remembering specifics about her grandmother. The story soon amped up with mystery, using Eva's memories and a bottle of scent her grandmother had made just for her. This scent seems to become apart of her, drawing attention to her and making her irresistible to her boyfriend, Gabriel, and a strange male character, Michael--Gabriel's landlord. Michael seemed quite charming, at first. But, to be honest, soon he gave me the creeps. He was one of the people you'd meet in a grocery store line and just know you should stay away. But of course, Eva soon becomes entangled with him, but in a way you'd never expect. I won't give it away, but it is a bit strange--creative, but strange. There was something distant about Eva though, like a piece or ingredient about her was missing or a more intimate thread between Eva and myself. In the author's defense, this could have been her intention. Leaving the characters on the surface for most of the book made me calculate my own conclusions, kind of the same way we do in life. And as the story progress to the final 30 pages, I realized that might have been it afterall. Once I reached that point in the story, all three characters deepened, as each shared with the reader what he/she had learned about the world and each other. Gabriel made up a bit for those misgivings, at least for me. I liked the safe sense he gave me as I read and how much he truly cared for Eva. To this end, questions about life, death, and the in-between braided through Eva's thoughts and actions. There was something deep and profound about this read, an element about life unseen and what that means. It even made me ponder how that applies to me, to each of us. In the end, I'd say it was a solid read and I'd recommend it to older YA readers, the age categorized as New Adult, and readers who enjoy pondering life and its meanings.
TeenBlurb More than 1 year ago
Scent of Darkness is sensual tale of romance and desire. Eva is thrown into a crazy rule after she wears a perfume that her grandmother made for her. Unnoticed before, now she other guys chasing her around New Orleans. As the story progress you see Eva get torn by two love interests. Michael is not affected by her perfume. Her school crush Gabriel, only takes notice of her when she is wearing the perfume. Can she separate Gabriel’s feelings from the effects of the perfume?” Will her relationship with Michael heat up? Margot Berwin has written an interesting story that brings to mind, Love Potion #9.Eva’s perfume makes her irresistible everyone she comes in contact with. Eva, being a loner.enjoys the company and attention that she is receiving, but she realizes that maybe things have gone to far. Scent of Darkness is erotic, chaotic, and overall an interesting read. I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MariaD1 More than 1 year ago
I received a complimentary copy of this book as a part of a book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.  A coming of age tale set in both New York and New Orleans, Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin was not at all what I expected. Mixing an interesting cast of characters, symbolism from the New Orleans Bayou and the physical sense of "scent, Ms. Berwin's tale is at times dark, haunting and strangely erotic. While developed somewhat slowly, the romance in this book takes both the characters and reader slowly by surprise. An only child, "Eva from the longer and more beautiful Evangeline", grows up spending her time between two homes; the house she shares with her self-involved mother Loretta, and her summers spent with her grandmother Louise. A perfume maker or aromata, Louise teaches Eva about the power of scent and how scent is tied to our memories. Upon her grandmother's death, Eva inherits her house and a "special scent" with a note that warns her : "Don't remove the crystal stopper, Evangeline, unless you want  everything in your life to change"  Removing the stopper and wearing the fragrance opens Eva's world and thrusts the shy, young woman into the spotlight. It also grants her secret wish of drawing the attention of Gabriel, a young medical student she's been attracted to from first sight. Following Gabriel to New Orleans, Eva begins to wonder if Gabriel is really drawn to her or just to her scent. Just when Eva thinks her life is just as she wants, another man is drawn into her life because of her scent, artist Micheal Bon Chance.  While neither Gabriel or Michael's characters are fully developed, everything is told from Eva's perspective, and we learn enough about both characters to see they present two completely different futures for Eva's life. The symbolism of their names also takes on special meaning during Eva's journey through life. Adding in the lure of scent, a touch of bayou magic and a little fortune telling, Ms. Berwin, brings Eva's journey full circle when she makes her final choice. Which man and future will Eva choose? You'll have to read Scent of Darkness to find out. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of this author's work. Favorite Lines/Quotes: "Change can be sudden, or slow, like a dream, It can rip out your heart or  bring you peace, But it can never stop being what it is, Evangeline,  Which is something that never stops being. In other Words, In the battle between holding on and letting go Chance will win, every time"  Louise So, 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. I closed my eyes and dreamed of Louise, an aromata from New Orleans who gave me nothing I did not already have.  Eva