Thursday, October 3, 2013

October 2013 Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone


By Laini Taylor

~Book Review~

Warning! Spoiler Alert!

LYRICAL, HAUNTINGLY ROMANTIC, with enough beautiful turns of phrase to make me squeal with glee.

Yes, I had a fun time reading this book.

Meet Karou, a blue-haired bundle of awesomeness who is an art student in Prague by day and a teeth-collector for the mysterious Brimstone by night. Come, now. You know you’re intrigued, if not a little bit creeped-out by, that “teeth-collector” bit. But it’s just one of the many ways Laini Taylor subverts typical tropes of YA fantasy. While she’s not off exploring an atmospheric Prague with her snarky ballerina friend Zuzanna, Karou goes on “errands” for her mentors, a trio of eccentric devils with a secret agenda that is attracting otherworldly attention.

Karou’s “family” are original, well-defined characters who never fail to enchant in every scene they’re featured in. Since the family is introduced as “demons,” the reader immediately questions whether we can trust their motivations or not—especially since they’re asking Karou to steal teeth of all things from a variety of species, humans not excluded, for God knows what purpose. I loved imagining the chimera-like appearance of the demon leader, the wise old Brimstone, and the scaly serpent Issa. Vaguely sinister or not, I was rapt with attention to figure out what this demonic family was up to.

Of course, when the angels showed up—the vengeful fiery kind that leaves smoldering black handprints on the homes of the demons as a warning of ill tidings to come—Karou’s family gets cast in a more sympathetic light. And Karou is left more in doubt than ever of who she “was” and what horrific secret her family is hiding from her.

Okay, so I really enjoyed the first half of the book. I was truly content watching this intricate world-building take place. The little things—like the hole-in-the-wall Bohemian restaurant Karou and Zuzanna gossip in, the timeless feel of the colorful streets of Prague, the revenge on Karou’s supremely entertaining ex-lover, Kazimir, whisked me away to a trance-like state of bliss. Karou was organic, independent and smart, an instant favorite fantasy heroine like my others—Katniss, Hermoine Granger, Rose Hathaway—and I absolutely loved the ugliness of Razgut, a fallen angel who’s so self-righteously selfish and grotesque to read about, you can’t help but want more.

The romantic lead, Akiva the angel, is okay. He’s blindly following the angelic cause, but questions all the right things, and seems like a decent guy. He failed to entrance me the way he does Karou, but then again, so did the entire second half of the book. It launches an entirely different plot from the first part, exploring Karou’s past life. I really didn’t see that coming. And while the doomed love story between Akiva and Karou, aka, “Madrigal” is conventionally dramatic and wrestles with some dark, depressing themes—genocide and exploitation—the entire time I was thinking, “When are we gonna get back to Prague?” I suppose I feel that less time could have been spent on the flashback. Taylor got me so invested in the present-day characters and their present-day troubles that I was impatient having to wade through a long, drawn-out back story. By the time I was finally returned to the present, the urgency was gone. I couldn’t remember the dire circumstances we’d left our main character off in. Cue cliffhanger.

Ah, well. Kudos to Taylor for making her magical version of Prague feel more fantastical than the actual fantasy flashback world. And from what my preview of Book II: Days of Blood and Starlight suggests, at least Zuzanna, Kazimir, and the rest of the gang back in Prague won’t be forgotten. Definitely recommend investing in this beautiful series—it reads like a modern-day fairytale.

Recommended for Fans of: Ursula K. LeGuin, Patricia A. McKillip, Robin Hobb, Guy Gavriel Kay
November Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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