If you’ve already read the first two novels in KD Grace’s The Mount series, you probably don’t need to read this review, and have most likely already devoured this novel. I haven’t read them, and I even skipped the introduction section of the book out of a desire to let the main text reveal itself to me with no preconceptions except that of knowing KD Grace to be a first-rate erotica writer, so bear in mind that my early knee-jerk reactions were based on ignorance of the bigger picture. Still, there’s something to be said for knee-jerk reactions, so I’ll take you on this ride more or less the way I experienced it.
My first reaction: An olfactory superpower that lets her even catch emotions and hidden desires? Hmm. Well, okay, could be interesting, if done well. My second: Okay, with descriptions like, “There was no denying it was the primal smell of male. It was the smell of desert lightning, of sage and juniper and thick, dark night,” it’s being done well. In fact the most memorable parts of the book for me were the way the central character Liza describes what she smells. An angry stranger smells like “mustard and a wet dog.” Nervousness has a citric tang. Hot metal goes with a predatory nature. Curiosity is a blend of cinnamon and nutmeg, while coriander signals skepticism. Cinnamon and vanilla figure strongly in sexual situations, along with various metallic tones, and so do honey and butter and tidepools and the ozone produced by lightning. Once in a while it occurred to me that in my experience some of the scents of human sensuality can’t really be compared to anything besides themselves, but what the heck, this is fiction, and if we readers can believe in the incredible sexual stamina of the characters, we don’t need to quibble about what’s possible and what isn’t.
To say that sexual situations and their panoply of aromas figure prominently here would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Even apart from the sniff-fest aspects, the sex is varied, intense, and written with skill and style. The story’s plot line involves an elite perfume company in Rome creating an irresistible scent based on what Liza tells them about what she smells during sex, her own and that of others she monitors, so sex in all its various couplings and contortions isn’t just recreation, it’s research.
My third knee-jerk reaction: Just when I was getting really engrossed in the story, an apparently what-the-fuck ploy made me roll my eyes. Liza, arriving as a journalist writing a story about the perfume company, is sent to the depths of their building into the lair of the security officer, Fidelia, an over-the-top lesbian dominatrix (or at least she role-plays the part.) Somewhat later, cryptic references to The Mount and Fidelia made me roll my eyes—surely the story didn’t require a stereotypical secret sex club! If I had read the introduction, however, I’d have realized that The Mount was the central feature binding together a series of novels, and, as it turned out, was of importance well beyond its convenience for the aforementioned research.
The plot also involves a business rival’s attempts to destroy the perfume company and incriminate Liza, a story line not by any means as interesting as the sexual and romantic and olfactory elements, or the lovely and striking descriptions of the beauties of Rome itself, but it does provide dramatic tension at almost the end. The very end, of course, is reserved for a tour-de-force of celebratory sex and scent that builds and then satisfies all the tension a reader could hope for. This reader, in fact, is downright envious of all the research the author must have done for such a scene. No fair skipping to it, though—it’s worth the wait.