(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
In twelfth century Scotland, it took a half-Gael with a Viking name to restore the clans to their rightful lands. Once an exile, Somerled the Mighty now dominates the west. He’s making alliances, expanding his territory, and proposing marriage to the Manx princess.
It’s a bad time to fall for Breagha, a torc-wearing slave with a supernatural sense of smell.
Somerled resists the intense attraction to a woman who offers no political gain, and he won’t have a mistress making demands on him while he’s negotiating a marriage his people need. Besides, Breagha belongs to a rival king, one whose fresh alliance Somerled can’t afford to lose.
It’s when Breagha vanishes that Somerled realizes just how much he needs her. He abandons his marriage plans to search for her, unprepared for the evil lurking in the shadowy recesses of Ireland—a lustful demon who will stop at nothing to keep Breagha for himself.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]
Scent of the Soul is a little jarring at first because 12th century Scotland is not a setting that I and probably many other people are familiar with. Still, Julie Doherty does a good job of orienting readers and quickly captures the essence of the time. You may find yourself with your head spinning as you try to keep all of the names straight but they’re repeated often so that you get a bit of a history of each person or place. By the end of the book you’ll be a pro, trust me on this. Doherty’s world-building just sucks you into her story so quickly that you can’t help but orient yourself quickly. You’ll need to, in order to truly appreciate all that Somerled and Breagha go through.
Somerled is a warlord of sorts who went from penniless exile to mighty king, with many other kings/petty princes/warlords bowing down to him and paying him tribute. We meet him as he’s older and looking for a political marriage to cement all that he has gained, but the sort of inferiority complex he developed as a penniless exile dogs him. In particular around women. So when one of his nominal allies captures a ship with only one sailor who survived and a woman with four dogs, he’s more than ready to give Fergus his wish and grant him ownership of the woman and the dogs. Until he sees her and she sees him, that is. Breagha is not just an incredible woman because of her supernatural sense of smell (among other talents). She goes through so much in the course of this book that it’s really a testament to the strength of her character that while she doesn’t exactly forgive, she doesn’t hold grudges like many people would given the circumstances.
Thankfully, the beginning of Scent of the Soul isn’t too much excitement at once. Of course we get glimpses of the massacre with the strange shadow men and of Semjaza, the book’s villain, but it’s just glimpses as we try to orient ourselves with Somerled’s situation. After that, the pacing most definitely increases for reasons that I can’t quite fully get into without spoiling some of the cool plot points. Julie Doherty doesn’t really let up with the tension after she introduces it and you’ll most definitely find yourself flipping through page after page to learn what happens next. It’s pretty relentless, particularly toward the end.
My only real criticism of this book is that sometimes the time switches can be absolutely jarring, particularly toward the end. There’s a particular scene where Somerled finds something and then it suddenly switches to Somerled happy with Breagha. I get that sometimes a time switch like that can be great but it felt like it wasn’t made clear that Somerled had found something; his part of the story just dropped off the edge of a cliff at that point. Maybe it was the fact my review copy was very poorly formatted so I have no clue whether or not there was a clear page break or other symbol. That’s more than possible but I must admit that even with the clear point of view shifts, sometimes Julie Doherty doesn’t exactly pick the best time to do it and it’s really jarring. Not exciting jarring, but just jarring and it leaves you frantically reading to try to orient yourself again.
So in short this book has awesome characters, a lot of tension and some pretty awesome world-building. Sometimes the point of view switches are jarring and confusing but the story itself is still coherent and fairly easy to follow. If the blurb has intrigued you, go on and pick up Scent of the Soul. I certainly enjoyed it.
I give this book 4/5 stars.