Book of the Month: Shadowscent The Darkest Bloom

P.M freestone author portrait and Shadowscent cover

Shadowscent takes the reader to another world, the Empire of Aramtesh, where scent is the greatest signifier of wealth and power. Rakel and Ash live in very different parts of the empire. Rakel lives in a small village in the desert. She struggles to survive and support her father who is dying of an incurable disease. In contrast, Ash lives in the Royal Palace, and works as an Imperial Family Shield for the Crown Prince.

Rakel is desperate to change her fate and support her dying father. She leaves the desert to pursue a career as a Scent-Keeper’s Apprentice, a very highly-esteemed role in the Empire. Ash is accompanying the Prince to the Scent-Keeper’s Temple to witness the once-in-a-lifetime blooming of the Empire’s most rare and valuable flower, Dahkai. Soon the two young people’s paths cross and they become dangerously embroiled in the politics of the empire. They are found in the wrong place at the wrong time and must flee for the lives. The fate of the empire hangs in the balance and they are the only ones who have any hope of saving it, and the life of the Crown Prince.

Shadowscent is a magnificent story with everything that fans of fantasy and science fiction look for. Freestone creates a breath-taking journey that explores themes of class, friendship and identity. The characters offer a diverse range of voices which readers will find both relatable and inspiring. Shadowscent can be a challenging read and may be suitable for more able readers (or those looking for a challenge!).

 What inspired you to write Shadowscent?

When I was 11 years old, I picked up The Diamond Throne by David Eddings. After that, I almost wore out my library card locust-swarming my way through shelf-upon-shelf of adult epic fantasy from the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s (around the time YA started to expand exponentially). But while I adored those adventures, and many of them featured young protagonists, I rarely saw myself or my friends in them.

So, I revelled in writing a book for younger me—seeking that sense of wonder that first drew me to fantasy, while making a promise to my teen self that one day I would find a place to belong. In Shadowscent, you’ll therefore find working class characters with roles as important as royalty. Some identify as queer. Several struggle with anxiety. Some have, or acquire, disabilities. And it’s the nerds who play some of the biggest roles: Shadowscent’s heroes rely on ingenuity and intellectual curiosity as much as physical prowess or being the prophesised Chosen One.

And when it came to dreaming up a brand new world for those characters to inhabit? That’s where the ‘scent’ in Shadowscent came into play. Of all the senses, I’ve long been fascinated with smell. Neurologically, our sense of smell is linked to memory, and merely thinking of a scent you’ve previously experienced likely conjures up all kinds of associations and emotions. So, I thought, what better way to immerse a reader than to build a fantasy setting around fragrance? Thus, the Empire of Aramtesh, where daily life revolves around scent, was born.

What research did you do to write the book?

I’ve always loved perfume, but I started my foray into serious perfume research after chatting with Edinburgh author Sara Sheridan about REEK, a line of high-end perfume inspired by heroines from Scottish history (beginning with Damn Rebel Bitches, which is still one of my favourite summer scents). From there, I partook in a lot of sniffing across mass market and artisanal perfume ranges. I also read a lot about perfume and perfumery, with an additional helping of food and wine writing, given taste and smell are interlinked. To lend authenticity to Aramtesh, I worked with a professional linguist to construct a new language where smell is the most important of the senses. But the true research rabbit-hole was reading about the fascinating ways our sense of smell and ‘cultures of scent’ have varied over time and in different parts of the world. I’m thankful I had my background in archaeology and religious history to draw on as a guide!

There is a nail-biting cliff-hanger at the end. Can we assume there will be a follow-up book soon? Do you have anything else in the pipeline?

Indeed! Shadowscent is a planned duology, and I’m currently working on the sequel. Familiar faces will return, some new ones will join the cast, and minor characters will find they have greater roles to play. Many a secret will be revealed as the struggle for power between rival factions intensifies, hurtling towards a confrontation that’s been brewing for centuries. Other than Shadowscent 2, I’m also tinkering on a few other things. But, for now, those are all secret. Watch this space!

Credit - Shadowscent by P.M. Freestone (Scholastic) is available now.

For a chance to win a copy of Shadowscent, answer the following question by Tuesday 30th April 2019: