Scent of Darkness NPR coverage of Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
NPR logo Scent of Darkness

Scent of Darkness

by Margot Berwin

Hardcover, 220 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $25 |


Buy Featured Book

Scent of Darkness
Margot Berwin

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

NPR Summary

When Eva turns 18, her grandmother gives her the gift of an extraordinary fragrance, one that transforms her life. But as the gift becomes a curse, Eva must uncover the secret behind the scent, and learn the message her grandmother had left inside that magical vial.

Read an excerpt of this book

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Scent Of Darkness


My name is Eva, from the longer and more beautiful Evangeline. I had something very special once, something that I took for granted and lost. I set out to find it again, and as so often happens, it was right there in front of me. Or should I say it was right there inside of me, running through my veins like a blessing, or a plague.


Jasmine smells like human flesh. Mix it with cumin, which smells like sweat, and you have the scent of sex. If you spread it on your body, watch out, you'll have sycophants all over the place, people crawling out of the woodwork to be close to you.

Human beings are defenseless against scent. They can't hide from it because they can't see it, or touch it, or hold it. All by itself it crawls into their brains, and by the time they're in love with it, or the person it's coming from, it's too late. They're tied to it forever, through the long, tight leash of memory.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that a great scent, like a great love, can crash onto the shore of your life like a wave, creating either damage or change or, in my case, both.

What happened when I came across a scent like that was that I fell in love with two men at the same time, and one was pure evil, and one was good. It was an old- fashioned love triangle. A classic tale that came up roses, and jasmine, and, of course, tears.

So, my name is Eva, from the longer and more beautiful Evangeline. And for me, the scent I found held my past, present, and future in its ethereal little hand.


I don't mean to be morbid and mostly I'm not, but it is possible to love someone evil. I know that for a fact. I wish I didn't, but wishing isn't going to change my story.

It happened during my eighteenth year, when I was too young to know that there are events and relationships that never go away. That you can never take back. That change you in ways over which
you have no control.

My grandmother Louise, the person I was closest to, would say that none of that mattered anyway. That who we love isn't a question of good or evil, but one of scent.

"Scent can do crazy things to the mind," she said. "It can make us love people we shouldn't and turn away those we should. It can make us desire the child of a criminal and shun the overtures of a saint. Never open your legs for a man whose mind you love but only for the man whose scent you can't live without. That's the one you'll stay with forever."

I'd spent every summer of my childhood with Louise, but it was the summer of my eighteenth year that changed everything. That was the beginning of all the danger and the beauty and the


Louise lived in the town of Cyril, which sat on a mountaintop in the westernmost part of New York State. It was a small town with only one road used for both directions, so it was said that the way in was also the way out.

The houses of Cyril were made of great gray stone slabs and ]enormous fi replaces, which never seemed to make them warm. They stood in a circle, huddled together on the flat top of a low mountain overlooking an evergreen forest. Look up and the sun was shining. Look down and it was a midnight of trees.

The physical description of the town would not be important to my story except for the fact that Louise was an aromata, a master in the creation of scent. A sorceress of nothing, as she liked to call herself, for scent has no physical form.

She chose to live in Cyril because she liked when the wind whipped through the evergreens. When the cool smell of the pine needles blew through the windows of her house, which she called the Stone Crow, and erased any trace of her art from the noses of neighbors too interested.

"Neve forget, Evangeline," she said, "those who make perfume consider themselves magicians of the highest order. They believe the scents they make possess the power to turn hate into love. Neutrality into desire. They don't share their choice of ingredients with anyone. They lock the doors to their laboratories with precision locks made by master craftsmen and later they kill those very same men so that no one will ever know the combination. Not a living soul."

"I'll remember that, Louise," I said.

I called her by her first name at her insistence. She thought "Grandmother" was too formal and put too many years between us, making it impossible for us to be friends.

"Put irises next to your mother's bed," she told me, "and she'll bring you a baby brother. Add a drop of lavender to the wash water and you'll dream of the man you'll love. Eucalyptus makes you taller, almondine fatter, and jasmine— oh, jasmine will wrap your entire life in a mystery."

"Do you believe that?" I asked.

"Not all of it. But it's true what they say about jasmine. If it comes from southern India, look out. Wear it often enough and I swear you won't recognize your own life. You'll be so confused about who you are you won't be able to pick your face out of a crowd in your own dream."

Excerpted from Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin. Copyright 2013 by Margot Berwin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.