If you’ve ever read a book or seen a movie, you’ve undoubtably experienced the phrase, “Something doesn’t smell right.” But in Michael B. Fletcher’s new fantasy novel Masters Of Scent (paperback, Kindle), something not smelling right could be an actual problem since, as he explains in the following email interview, this story is set in a world where smells are magic.
To start, what is Masters Of Scent about, and what kind of a world is it set in?
The country of Ean is controlled by powerful invaders, the Sutanites, who use scent as a weapon to control and suppress the native people and destroy opposition. Targas, a blender of alcoholic spirits, is drawn into Ean through a powerful scent manipulation by the Resistance, who are aiming to find help to overthrow their enemy. Targas suffers memory loss and unwittingly becomes the focus of the warring parties as they become aware of his extraordinary abilities.
Aided by teenagers Kyel and Luna, Targas finds he is able to use scent in radical new ways, to unravel complex odor notes and manipulate and re-form them into powerful offensive and defensive weapons. He works with the scent-talented Sadir to cope with the challenges of this new land and come to terms with his powers, experiencing her friendship and then love as events lead him to support the native cause.
The critical aspect of the novel is that the magic is based on the use of scent as a physical tool to control and manipulate. This is an area I have never come across in my extensive reading of the genre; it has been used in a limited way as an adjunct to whatever magic the story is based upon, but not as the tool of magic itself.
It’s also set in a world that is similar to our own in terms of geography, climate, weather, and appearance (one moon and blue sky). In terms of clothing, housing, food, etc., it has a mediaeval element to it, but there are different animals for transport and food, and to be afraid of.
Where did you get the idea for Masters Of Scent, what inspired it?
I had the opportunity in 2005 to write a novel as part of a writing course. I’ve always been a storyteller, with most stories involving some sort of magic, so I thought a fantasy novel using a different kind of magic would be a nice challenge. I didn’t want a typical fantasy focusing on elves, wizards, and dragons, etc., I wanted a story with a new magic. One that hadn’t been used before.
I’ve always been fascinated by scent and how it can affect us. The smell of frying bacon or onion makes you wish you had some. Smelling an intangible perfume can remind you of a time or event in your past? Strong B.O. can repel you. A particular scent can encourage you to buy a product or deter you from entering a shop. There’s even been some research in using scent for military purposes. The list goes on.
I was intrigued by the possibilities of a magic based on scent, how it would work, what it would look like, what it could be used for. It took me several years to develop it so it was powerful and believable.
As you said, Targas gets help from two teenagers, Luna and Kyel. Why did you decide that Kyel and Luna would be teenagers as opposed to little kids or adults who are the same age or even older than Targas?
In this world, the autocratic rulers select young people on the verge of puberty as they’re the ones who can be controlled, indoctrinated, and trained to become scent masters against their own people. It’s also a good age to add some of the issues faced by teenagers: love and attraction, conflict with parents, uncertainty about role in life, the desire to do something different, decision-making. Kyel and Luna were a good age for introducing the tensions and roadblocks that were needed in the story.
Masters Of Scent is obviously a fantasy story, but are there other genres present in this story as well?
Masters Of Scent is a story based in a world not unlike our own but with sufficient differences so we know it couldn’t be taking place anywhere in this world. It is an adventure story with some romance, themes of war and horrific events, but the overarching focus is on magic, which is essential in a fantasy novel.
Masters Of Scent is your first novel, though you’ve also written numerous short stories, some of which are collected in the book Kings Of Under-Castle. But are there any writers who had an influence on Scent but not on any of your short stories?
I avidly seek out and read writers like Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffery, Andre Norton, Raymond Feist, R.A. Salvatore, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
I think, out of all the writers I’ve read, the one who stands out is Modesitt, who gets into a story with a readily identifiable main protagonist who the reader can follow and emphasize with, particularly with the choices they have to make. They usually are the main proponent of the magic of the world Modesitt develops. The magic is believable even though, on reflection it’s not possible, but in the story you always want more.
What about non-literary influences; was Masters Of Scent influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Masters Of Scent hasn’t really been influenced by any of the above; I’m a reader not a watcher or player. I have seen movies such as The Color Of Magic, The Golden Compass, Avatar, and Dr. Strange, and I enjoyed them, but don’t feel there’s been any influence.
Now, Masters Of Scent is the first book of a trilogy, also called Masters Of Scent. What was it about this saga that made you realize it needed to be told in three parts as opposed to one or two, or, conversely, four, five, or thirty-seven?
There’s a very simple answer to that question. Masters Of Scent was written as a stand-alone story, and so it continued over the development of the book. It was only when I’d finished writing it that I began to wonder what happened next. Did the hero live happily ever after? Did the enemy slink away never to be seen again? How did the winners recover and go on with their lives? Was there more to be explored in scent magic?
Hence books 2 and 3. While each of these books can be read as a stand-alone covering significant developments in the story arc, Book 3 gave a logical conclusion to the story and the mystery / versatility of scent power.
So, do you know yet when the other two will be out, and what they’ll be called?
Book 2, Tumblers Of Rolan, is due for release around November of 2023, and Shadow Scent will be out in November of 2024.
Tumblers Of Rolan introduces a new scent magic from the neighboring land of Rolan, a magic that is only strong in the women of that country. It comes at a time when the uneasy peace is shattered and the deposed Sutanite ruler is seeking revenge on Ean.
In Shadow Scent, the aggressive Sutanites make a final push to capture and control the lands of Ean and Rolan. All that stands in their way is a teenage girl wielding a strange new shadow scent magic.
Earlier you said Masters Of Scent hadn’t been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But do you think Scent — and by extension, the Masters Of Scent trilogy — could work as a movie, TV show, or game?
Masters Of Scent book 1 could work as a movie. The biggest issue for me was being able to describe scent, what color it would be, what it showed of the originator and their mood, and how it moved. Modern movie makers could easily deal with that.
A less desirable format would be a series on TV as the action and character development needs to be tight.
But a video game would be great because there are many layers to the story that could be used to provide challenges to the gamers. It would also be a good format for showing scent and associated magic in a very active way.
So, if someone wanted to adapt the Masters Of Scent trilogy into a series of movies, who would you want them to cast as Targas, Kyel, and Luna?
I really have little conception of who could play the characters since, as I said, I don’t do much watching, and am not familiar with actors and their work. But a good casting person would be able to find the right person. What an interesting challenge.
Finally, if someone enjoys Masters Of Scent, what fantasy series of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for Tumblers Of Rolan to come out?
I would definitely seek out L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s Spellsong Cycle. It’s one of his earliest and best, while the Corean Chronicles, the Saga Of Recluce, and the Imager Portfolio series are equally as good. He is one of the few authors where I’ll reread a story and still enjoy it as much a second time.