One thing I’ve found about the best books is that the writing engages ALL the senses. You’ll read about the sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, and even the smells of the location where the book is set. Using these senses helps to draw the reader into the book and makes it more compelling.
In The Last Bucelarii series, the Hunter of Voramis (the protagonist) is a half-demon assassin with heightened senses. In addition to keen hearing, he has a strong sense of smell (a very animalistic trait, a part of his demonic heritage). Smell plays a very large role in the story. Not only does it help to set the tone for his environment (the heady floral perfumes of the nobility, the musky stink of working men, the rotting stench of the demons, and so on), but it also enhances the way he perceives the people around him.
- He has memories of his “lost love”, and the memories include her scent: jasmine and honey, cinnamon and berries.
- The children (Farida, Hailen, etc.) have a “clean, innocent” smell.
- The men he bonds with tend to have honest, hard-working smells (leather, sweat, horses, etc.)
- The scholars smell of ink, parchment, leather, dust, vellum, etc.
- The demons reek of rot and decay.
His sense of smell is much stronger, like an animal’s.
Through the books, he travels from the city of Voramis (far in the south) northward. He goes from his medieval Europe-style city to cities with more Arabian, Mediterranean, and Oriental environments. Each new city exposes him to a different array of smells, just as it would be in the modern world.
Here’s an interesting fact I found today: the scent receptors in animals’ noses develop according to the scents to which they are exposed.
There are 1000+ olfactory receptors, making the olfactory system the most complex of the senses. Genetics do play a role in the sense of smell—the genes of the mice determined which olfactory receptors were present. However, the most important factor was the environment. Mice which grew up under laboratory conditions had a different sense of smell from genetically similar mice that grew up outside a lab.
Think about it like this: every country/city/environment has their own unique blend of scents. A Brazilian growing up in the U.S. would have a sense of smell more on par with an American than a Brazilian on the streets of Rio. The same would be true in Mexico City, Tokyo, or Riyadh.
A fascinating concept, isn’t it? Had the Hunter spent his life living in an Oriental-style city, he’d be accustomed to a totally different range of scents. The same if he’d grown up in a Viking-style city, an Arabian-style city, or a hut in the jungle.
The sense of smell is conditioned by our environment as well as our genetics. Perhaps that’s why a scent that smells nice to one person is repulsive to another, and vice versa.