So, how did you make out? Did you manage to read the first book in our ongoing book club? Michele from Just a Lil Lost and I completed the first challenge, and met recently for brunch with the lovely Chandra (aka @sakuralovestea) to discuss what we thought of Laini Taylor’s first of a four-book series, Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Please note: as this is a book discussion, there are SPOILERS WITHIN. My review is here, and Michele’s review is here. We regret that illness kept the equally lovely Leah Bobet from joining us – next time, Leah!
There’s something so civilized about meeting to eat delicious food, drink lovely fizzy things and talk about books. As part of our Summer Reading Challenge (a valiant effort on the part of Michele and I to clear out some of our tottering to-be-read piles of books), we took up the challenge to read the very-celebrated Daughter of Smoke & Bone – especially timely when you consider that the sequel will be out in November. After settling in and ordering our food and drink, and taking a moment to appreciate the sunshine of a Sunday morning in July, we began our discussion.
To begin, we all agreed that Laini Taylor is a wonderful wordsmith. It is a gorgeously written book, and this a beautiful book. There are segments of the book that make you stop and pause, and you realize that the sentences or paragraphs that you read are just perfect. Michele noted that it was almost distracting in how beautifully it was written, and it almost took away from the events at times. Chandra said that she can clearly see why this book made it onto so many top-ten lists last year, as the writing is very literary and absolutely beautiful.
Karou is,by all our accounts, a great character. She is a classic twenty-something, and she behaves like a normal girl who has had her heart broken; she is petulant and funny and clever and loving and, ultimately, we agreed, she’s lonely. As a character, she is unique and wonderous in so many ways. Her relationship to her family – to Brimstone, to the other chimaera, to Zuzana – is terribly important to her, as it is the only love she knows for a goodly portion of the book. She demonstrates her love so quietly that it moved us, and we really felt the loss of her family when they were gone.
As well, we were in agreement that the use of mythology and legend – golems, reanimation, mythical battles – worked well, and fit the history of Prague and the timelessness of the story. There was something almost movie-magical about the description of the soul-reapers, walking the fields of the dead with the mist rising and trailing smoke to entice the souls to come home with them. Imagery such as that made us pause and admire just what a great writer Taylor could be.
Additionally, the wisdom of Brimstone and the other members of her ‘family’ is lovely and honest, without being preachy. Brimstone and Issa give Karou advice that is funny but meaningful, without lecturing, and the quick turn from humour to pathos is sweet in the depth of caring it demonstrates for ‘their’ Karou.
“I don’t know many rules to live by,” [Brimstone had] said. “But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles – drug or tattoo – and … no inessential penises, either.”
“Inessential penises?” Karou had repeated, delighted with the phrase in spite of her grief. “Is there any such thing as an essential one?”
“When an essential one comes along, you’ll know,” he’d replied. “Stop squandering yourself, child. Wait for love.”
Chandra made a really interesting observation, in that everything Brimstone says reveals the truth about Karou, long before we as readers realize it. If you go back and re-read his conversations, he is never anything less than honest with her, and it is spelled out for you what is to come.
After the incident in St. Petersburg, when she was recovering from being shot, she’d demanded, “Is my life really worth so little to you?”
As soon as the question was out of her mouth, she’d regretted it. If her life was worth so little to him, she didn’t want him to admit it. Brimstone had his faults, but he was all she had as a family, along with Issa and Twiga and Yasri….
His answer had neither confirmed nor denied her fear. “Your life, You mean, your body? Your body is nothing but an envelope, Karou. Your soul is another matter, and is not, as far as I know, in any immediate danger.” ~ page 43
Where opinions diverged was in our discussion of the love interest. None of us were terribly enthused about the idea of the love affair with an angel – to some, the addition of the love story with Akiva made it ‘just another angel book’, and that removed the uniqueness of the story. We agreed that it divided the story into two parts – the slow, literary part of the book, and then the last 80 pages or so, where it becomes an angel love story. Karou stops being the wonderful character that we loved for the first 4/5th of the book, and becomes this other … being. The love story seemed, to us, to be between two different people, as the Karou who fell in love was not the Karou we knew from the first part of the book. The Karou we know throughout the story makes her own decisions, but the Karou we meet in the past is not as well definied and definitely less confident. We do not know her. As a result, the relationship with Akiva was ultimately less important to us than the relationship she had with her family. We wondered if the love story was part of a later book, but was included now to stimulate interest – an intriguing question, but not one we are likely to have an answer for any time soon.
However, we agreed that Karou’s final decision – to leave Akiva and search out her family – at the very end of the book is the return to the Karou we knew before. For some of us, it was enough to bring us back around to wanting to read the second book in the series; however, for Michele, the break between the stories was harsh enough to dissuade her from wanting to continue with the series. After our discussion, however, she’s willing to wait to see what we think about it before picking it up herself. Her response at the end of the book was “Huh.” Not exactly a rave review, while Chandra and I are, for different reasons, still engaged enough to want to see how Laini Taylor will continue, and if she can bring her lyricism to engage us further in the love story between Karou and Akiva.
Join the discussion! Link your thoughts or reviews to our discussions here, and check out Michele’s recap here - we’d love to see and hear what you think. Our book for August will be The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin.