The Collector of Dying Breaths: A Novel of Suspense - M.J. Rose

I will admit from the start that I requested this book from NetGalley for two reasons that really have nothing to do with the plot. First, the cover looked interesting; and second, I am going to Florence soon, and the setting tied in perfectly.


I am usually a little more circumspect when I choose books (read reviews, check a lot of “best of” lists, look for blurbs from authors I like, and look at the cover — because yes, I still judge a book by its cover), but sometimes one slips through the cracks. That’s why there are no bad book reviews here: because I wouldn’t want to waste the space, and because I very rarely read a book that doesn’t have at least a little something going for it. This book really is no exception. I didn’t love it, but there was a lot I liked about it. (I am a silver linings kind of person, can you tell?) There was a wealth of information about the perfume business, going back to the 1500s, which I found compelling. How someone thought to look in so many odd places to preserve a particular scent, and to know that it would combine well with an equally odd scent to form something new is still beyond me, though. But I do love historical fiction.


In 1540’s France, René le Florentin is perfumer to Catherine de Medicici. Apparently, he was working on more than just perfumes in his secret laboratory; he was trying to reanimate dying breaths. Though this pursuit started as a noble cause, it quickly became something else; and, between the two of them, René and Catherine amass quite a collection of dying breaths, very few of them offered willingly. We go back and forth in each chapter, between the 1500s and the present day, where another odd cast of characters is hoping to discover René’s secret for themselves.


So, gee, it actually sounds a lot more interesting than it was when I read it. Here are some reasons why I didn’t love it. I am not a fan of Twilight (sorry), and, for some reason, I kept feeling as if someone was going to turn into a vampire at some point. Maybe it was because there was a lot more cheesy romance and awkward sex scenes than I would have expected in “a Novel of Suspense”. (I didn’t realize until after I read this that it is part of a series.) The characters, particularly the present day villainess Melinoe, were intentionally vague; but there was so much about her that was just implied without ever being fully developed. In fact, I think my particular problem was that I much preferred the story and the characters in the sixteenth century to the ones in the present day. In the present day, there were two sets of siblings – one more Flowers in the Attic than the other. I understand they are supposed to be perfumers, but Jac D’Etoile spends an awful lot of time talking about her dead brother’s scent.


Another basic problem I had with the premise of the book is I just couldn’t understand why someone would want to try to reanimate breath. Am I missing something here? Is this a thing? Not sure what the outcome would be, or even the expectation. As far as I could tell, they would have a baby breathe it, and then you would live again in the baby. I think I would just save all that science and start hoping for reincarnation. Seems like it would be a whole lot simpler.