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The Scent of Shadows: The First Sign of the Zodiac    by Vicki Pettersson order for
Scent of Shadows
by Vicki Pettersson
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2007 (2007)
Paperback, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Fans of dark paranormals who are getting a little weary of the current glut of vampires, werewolves and other assorted shape shifters, rejoice! Newcomer Vicki Petterrson makes a stunning debut in the first of her Sign of the Zodiac series, The Scent of Shadows.

Las Vegas heiress Joanna Archer is on a blind date with a man she finds increasingly insufferable. Over appetizers things literally goes to hell when Ajax Sand reveals his true Shadow side and announces that 'we've been hunting you a long time'. Only Joanna's skill at martial arts followed by fortuitous police intervention allows her to escape Ajax's murderous clutches. Her emotional reunion with former lover, detective Ben Traina, is short-lived when Joanna's younger sister Olivia is targeted by the same Shadow demons hunting Joanna. Olivia is the only bright light in Joanna's fractured and dysfunctional family and she is more than willing to trade her life for her sister's. But when Joanna's true destiny is revealed just as midnight ushers in her 25th birthday, the sisters' lives are forever changed.

Having survived the Shadow assassins, Joanna must leave her old life behind or die. A man named Warren takes her under his wing and explains that she's experienced a metamorphosis that marks the beginning of her third life cycle. She's forced to come to terms with the truth that her parents kept hidden from her - that she is the rare progeny of Shadow and Light, and a new Zodiac initiate. Warren explains that 'every major city in the world has a Zodiac Troop ... we scent out Shadow agents, our polar opposites on the astrological chart, and destroy them'. He reveals that she is also the prophesied Kairos, and the new hope for all the Zodiac troops' continued survival. But he further warns her that her father, the Tulpa, and his powerful Shadow demons will stop at nothing to entice her into their realm. They'll eventually unmask her scent and once they do, the Tulpa's evil minions will stop at nothing to make her their own - or kill her and any other warriors of Light who defy them.

Pettersson presents a stylish, highly imaginative and deeply emotional start to her Zodiac series. It's dark, edgy and intense and teems with visually stylistic prose that leaps off the page and wraps itself around your imagination. Joanna is a fascinating and strong lead who oozes dark allure but whose past has left her damaged and conflicted and unable to get close to anyone, including the only man she's ever loved. First person point of view keeps the focus on Joanna as she struggles to accept her new reality, her dual nature, and the high expectations of her troop. The narrative sometimes meanders, but the intent of this first installment seems focused on explaining the complicated mythology, introducing the major players (both Light and Shadow) and their hierarchy within the Zodiac Troops, as well as establishing their battleground.

Diana Gabaldon, Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison all give The Scent of Shadows glowing endorsements. Though I generally prefer reaching my own conclusions about a debut author, these ladies' comments are well deserved. Vicki Pettersson is indeed an outstanding and strong new voice in dark fantasy and she makes a powerhouse debut in The Scent of Shadows.

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