In hopes that the last breath isn’t the last at all…
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
First Published: 8th April 2014
Date Reviewed: 14th March 2014
In 1500s France, an apothecary’s apprentice is saved by Catherine de Medici and becomes one of her favourites, providing her with perfumes, potions, and poisons. He is happy in his position but his ultimate goal is to put into practise the theories of his old friend who believed life could be reborn. In present-day France, Jac looks at continuing the work of her brother Robbie, who died of a mysterious illness. History and modernity come together and Jac knows she is taking on the past. She also knows about her brother’s belief that her hallucinations are windows into days long gone, but she doesn’t know just how far it goes.
The Collector Of Dying Breaths is a dual-story book that uses history to good effect but to mixed results.
The story is predictable but it in a way that doesn’t spoil it too much – there is nothing that suggests the answers shouldn’t have been easy to guess. What may prove difficult, however, is the notion of dying breaths that the book rests on. Superstitions and theories about magic and the unknown where rife in the 1500s, but it can be hard to believe that anyone nowadays would consider the possibility that a breath captured in a bottle could recreate life. Whilst the theory is of course fine as a fantasy element, there is not enough of the genre overall to aid in the suspension of what is realistic required by the reader and so the resolution of the story may not be as compelling as it is supposed to be.
This is also true of the way the two time periods are woven together. Because Jac’s ‘ability’ is known from the start, the conclusion of this theme may not seem as interesting. However the biggest issue with the way the periods connect is one of belief, similar to that of the experiments. The past lives idea works by itself, but the way it is dealt with by the characters is overdone – and this is because the main character switches back and forth between being strong and weak, knowledgeable and naïve in odd ways, that make the answers unsatisfying.
Part of the issue has to do with the writing style. There is a lot of telling involved, in fact Jac remains undeveloped for a fair amount of time. Information about her is suddenly included as though you’ve walked in during the middle of a conversation, and facts are dropped randomly that it’s hard not to feel should’ve been stated within the first few pages. Where there is a lot of unnecessary information about historical people and perfumes (more than is needed for this story of perfumers) the book could do with more information on Jac, shown. Nationalities are also difficult to discern and the historical language, whilst generally good, does veer towards the 21st century on occasion.
The history itself is believable and well written. Catherine de Medici is portrayed in a somewhat bad light that might be worse than reality but is far from awful, and you can see where the author has filled gaps in history and used certain factors as a springboard into fiction. The author has no qualms about showing the dark side of court and how quickly an enemy or simply a person of higher standing would be quietly removed.
There are sex scenes in both eras, fairly graphic and in the case of the 1500s showing the religious hypocrisy apparent. One of the contemporary scenes provides a moment of contemplation for the character that seems to be a way for the author to explore a trend and is a little out of place overall, but otherwise, especially where the historical chapters are concerned, the scenes work.
Due to the predictability and sudden switches in thoughts early on, it is hard to get a handle on the story and difficult to say you really know the characters and care about them – the story can be confusing. That said, the history is interesting and accurate enough, and the mystical aspects appealing if not used to full effect.
The Collector Of Dying Breaths is unlikely to make your best of list, but it isn’t bad and the history is informative.
I received this book for review from for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.
March 14, 2014, 9:04 pm
I’ll be reading this soon for the blog tour as well. The setting and the story both sound interesting, but I hope I don’t have the same problems with the writing style that you’ve had.
March 15, 2014, 3:35 am
I have read the other books in this series and will be reading this one soon. I should really start it over the weekend.