Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran
Pub. Date: March 31, 2015
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s!!)
Summary: When French perfumer Danielle Bretancourt steps aboard a luxury ocean liner, leaving her son behind in Poland with his grandmother, she has no idea that her life is about to change forever. The year is 1939, and the declaration of war on the European continent soon threatens her beloved family, scattered across many countries. Traveling through London and Paris into occupied Poland, Danielle searches desperately for her the remains of her family, relying on the strength and support of Jonathan Newell-Grey, a young captain. Finally, she is forced to gather the fragments of her impoverished family and flee to America. There she vows to begin life anew, in 1940s Los Angeles.
There, through determination and talent, she rises high from meager jobs in her quest for success as a perfumer and fashion designer to Hollywood elite. Set between privileged lifestyles and gritty realities, Scent of Triumph is one woman’s story of courage, spirit, and resilience.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended for: Fans of wartime fiction (WWII), perfume, and forbidden romance
1939. Danielle Bretancourt, traveling home to her family in France, had left her son safely behind with her husband’s mother back in Poland. When the liner is torpedoed by u-boats, Danielle sees for herself the true horrors of war. Now that Hitler has occupied Poland and terror looms over much of Europe, Danielle’s husband Max vows to return to their home, to find their son – to stop at nothing to save Nicky.
As the days turn into weeks and the weeks drag into months, Danielle longs to hear word from her husband, word that he’s safe, word that he’s found their son and is returning to her. Unfortunately, when she does receive a telegram it’s the one thing she doesn’t want to hear: Max had been killed. Whether it was a result of the war or his murder was planned, Danielle isn’t sure, but she does know she needs to leave France. Now.
Gathering what little family she has left, Danielle arranges passage on a liner heading for America – both in an attempt to get away from those who might be following her and in order to start a new life. America is the Land of Dreams after all, and Danielle is determined to provide the best for her family.
When I first heard of Jan Moran’s Scent of Triumph, I knew it was one I wanted to read. Not only did it have a wartime setting (y’all know how I love my wartime fiction!), but it had an intriguing element I had never read about: perfume. Interestingly, Moran is a fragrance expert, has spoken before the American Society of Perfumers, and has even developed her own line! While the perfume jargon was certainly interesting, Danielle’s nose took me out of the story. Yes, I understand that she comes from a long line of perfumers and yes, I understand that she’s been in training since she was a child. But do I really need to have it constantly beaten over my head that she’s a Super Scenter? Anytime she meets someone new – or even when she’s interacting with someone the reader already knows – she launches into an inner monologue about the notes in the perfume/cologne that character is wearing, what the main essence is, how much of each ingredient is in the scent. Enough, Danielle.
I’m worried this review will be more a rambling of my thoughts than a coherent, linear criticism. I’ve been sitting on this one for well over a week and still I’m finding myself grasping for things to say. Sure, I enjoyed the story while reading, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. It also wasn’t anything horrendous, so Scent of Triumph is stuck in that Limbo-esque middle ground – and I’ve found that those solid average reads are always the hardest for me to discuss.
While I enjoyed the setting and time period, I was never emotionally invested in the story. I didn’t particularly care about Nicky and was more than a little shocked to discover that, after only a year of being on his own he’s forgotten his name and his parents. He’s seven years old at this point. For months he had been hiding away with his grandmother and relatives until they were all brutally murdered. After that, he joined a pack of children where they were taken in by a few families and he somehow made his way from Poland to London. Am I really to believe he’s already forgotten his mother? His father? His name? Had he been a baby, okay, but he’s a school-age child. Sorry, I’m not buying it.
I also wasn’t a big fan of Danielle. With such a large part of the novel being devoted to her search for Nicky, Danielle certainly doesn’t seem all that concerned. She’s able to pick up with her life and move on, carting her daughter and traumatized mother (there was a scene where a man was meant to be taken out by a car bomb, but as it turned out, Danielle’s parents and sister-in-law had been in the car as well. The only thing that saved her mother was that she forgot her purse and turned around to get it..) across the Atlantic and starting a new life. She goes through three husbands – if you were Husband #3 and were well aware that both #1 and 2 were murdered by Nazis (who oddly had a grudge against Danielle since they traveled halfway across the world to track her down) wouldn’t you think twice about marrying this woman? The only thing she really has going for her is her business savvy. Once she has her things sent to America, she sets to work creating a perfume she had been working on for months, determined to find a way to support her family. She’s able to rise through the ranks, from a shop girl in a boutique to, eventually, a self-made woman.
Things seem to just fall in place for Danielle, and the convenient nature of it all had me rolling my eyes. Her perfume really takes off when a gossip columnist gets a whiff. Husband #2 had been depicted as a playboy the ENTIRE novel, even mentioning the hundreds of women he’s been with…until Danielle is made a widow. Then his entire persona changes because it’s ~tru luv~ on his part. However, all throughout the novel, Scent of Triumph had been setting up Danielle with Husband #3 so I knew it was only a matter of time until they finally got together. By the time they admit their feelings for each other, they’re both married. WHAT TO DO. Fear not, reader! Remember those pesky Nazis who want to stop at nothing to kill Danielle? Husband #2 jumps in front of one, taking the bullet and neatly ending his life. Husband #3’s wife? Turns out the baby she’s carrying isn’t his! And she wants to marry the baby’s father! And his wife just agreed to a divorce! Nicky is tracked down after someone in an orphanage just so happens to remember his eyes and, as luck would have it, Danielle spots Nicky on a ship – while on the dock (she must have amazing eyesight since the ship was already heading out to sea.) The nice captain even turned the boat around. See what I mean? There was far too much of this throughout the novel.
I know it seems like I’m airing an awful lot of grievances but I truly enjoyed the time I spent with the novel. I’m not entirely sure who to recommend it to though – or if I would even recommend it at all. Scent of Triumph wasn’t BAD, but there wasn’t anything about it that stood out for me. It does have a truly beautiful cover though, but a cover alone doesn’t make a novel.