Vicki Pettersson,
Sign of the Zodiac #2: Taste of Night
(Avon, 2007)

When I reviewed Scent of Shadows, the first in Vicki Pettersson's new series about the Zodiac, I saw potential, but felt that first novel needed more editorial and consideration of the world elements before its debut. Scent of Shadows didn't quite live up to its press. I sincerely hoped that Pettersson's writing would mature as she continued to develop her novels.

I probably should have wished for a winning lottery ticket at the same time, because clearly that was my day to get what I wished for. Taste of Night fulfills the promise I hoped for in Scent and then some.

Taste of Night continues the story of Joanna Archer, a young Las Vegas woman who discovered in Scent that she wasn't her father, billionaire Xavier Archer's, daughter -- and she wasn't quite human. Just after that, her younger sister, Olivia, plunges to her death from her highrise apartment in a vicious attack on the two sisters. Joanna wakens in a private hospital wearing her sister Olivia's face and body. She learns that through her maternal line, Joanna was destined to become the Archer, a superhero representing the sign of Sagittarius in Light Zodiac Troop 175, which is charged with preserving good in Las Vegas, Nevada. She also learns that her real father is the Tulpa, a created man who leads the Shadows -- the dark Zodiac troop in opposition to the Light. This makes Joanna the "Kairos," the first "sign" of the Zodiac, a being equally of light and shadow who will bring balance to the elements.

Without the somewhat cumbersome burden of first book setup, Taste takes off with fireworks -- deadly ones, to be precise. The second sign of the Zodiac is plague. The Tulpa has released a sexually transmitted plague on the humans of Las Vegas via one of the biggest fireworks shows the city's had. In a matter of hours, pairs of dead bodies are being reported all over the city. The couples are generally hideously burned on their mouths and genitals.

It's up to Joanna and the Light team to discover the source of the plague and the antidote before it kills everyone in Las Vegas. But Joanna faces her own private battles. Regan, an agent of the Shadow, is trying to recruit her to her father's team -- and providing some valuable information on the plague and her sworn enemy Joaquin, a member of the Shadow troop, in exchange. Unlike her troop leader, Joanna believes the Light should not just seek balance, but work to conquer the shadows -- and her first order of business in doing that is killing Joaquin, but will Joanna risk the lives of her whole troop to do this?

And what about Joanna's great love, Ben Traina? Will she be able to let him go and go on with her life in her sister's skin?

Taste is head and shoulders above Scent in plot and pacing. Pettersson keeps the pages turning and doesn't bog the reader down with worldbuilding.

Pettersson's characters are developing life. Joanna is a strong protagonist whose beliefs and personal desires sometimes collide. She makes tough decisions. The other superheroes from her troop are also beginning to be more than just paper tigers. It's a pleasure to see how their lives and personalities unfold.

The plot is also more interesting and less convoluted than the first book. Taste is a fantasy with bits of mystery successfully embedded. The directness and swift movement of the plot make Taste much harder to put down than Scent. Like me, you may find yourself reading it in one sitting, so reserve some time before you get started.

One negative is that the plague itself probably would not stand up to the scrutiny of an epidemiologist, but the twist is definitely one worthy of Sin City.

Worldbuilding, key to any good fantasy, is also much stronger in Taste. I'm particularly fascinated by Pettersson's notion that comic books are the actual history of superheroes' lives. Joanna's interactions with the denizens of a comic-book store are some of the best in the book.

One thing to note, Taste is definitely on the fantasy end of the fantasy-paranormal romance spectrum. While there is sexual content in this book, it is not treated in the same manner as a paranormal romance would be.

review by
Becky Kyle

30 August 2008

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