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Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor (Summer Read-a-long Edition)

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”

Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the first book that Michele at Just a Lil’ Lost and I decided to tackle as part of our summer reading project. We both have HUGE to-be-read piles, and know that we are missing out on some great books, simply due to time. This was one of them, and for me, it did not disappoint.

Laini Taylor is a brilliant wordsmith. She paints vivid pictures of the places within her book – Prague, Marrakesh and fantasy worlds not seen in real life. There were times where I honestly felt that the setting was another character in her story, and that I wanted to know the back-history of that character as much as Karou’s own. There is magic in Taylor’s writing, as she manages to capture the very essence of the city and bring it to life in a way that makes you think that you have never encountered it before.

“The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century—or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plaster work and capped in roofs of uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.”

Karou herself is an amazing character, and I can’t wait to read more about her. When we first meet, she is a reserved blue-haired art student with incredible talent – talent, we soon realize, that is valid, but enhanced by magic and mystery. Karou has been raised by monsters – the chimaera –  and they are her true family. She is as affectionate with them as any human relation, even as Brimstone, her father-figure, sends her on errands around the world to collect teeth on his behalf and for mysterious purposes. She is spunky and brave, full of conviction and love but tempered by a dose of loneliness. She is not afraid to stand up for herself and those she loves, and having another female protagonist who can kick butt is never a bad thing! What I enjoyed about Karou was her humour and humanity in spite of her otherworldly abilities. She can be a little petulant and selfish, just like any young girl in her twenties. She has a best friend who is falling in love and Karou feels a little left out – a perfectly normal response. When she complains to Issa, one of her many alternative family members, she is gently chastised. Issa, the gatekeeper, tells her, “I know it’s not easy for you, living this life, but try to remember, always try to remember, you’re not the only one with troubles.”

Troubles indeed, as Karou does not realize that she is in the midst of a battle between the angels and chimaera. The reader quickly realizes that there is no black and white in this battle, just as there is truly no pure good or pure evil. Those that we would normally call ‘monster’ are actually the people who love Karou best, and they are selfless in their love to the point of risking their own existence. Similarly, the angels are not always perfect in this world, capable of great destruction and harm through the simplest of actions. When we are finally introduced to the two worlds, all is not peaceful and calm, and there are many losses that will occur before we truly understand the relationship between the two.

“It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.”

The story seems to be in two separate parts. There is the vivid descriptions of Karou and her life in Prague, and there is the story Karou and Akiva. The first is a narrative, told in exquisite detail and with vivid imagery that carries the reader along with them. The second is a love story, and it is here where I had more difficulty. The love that Karou has for Brimstone and Issa and Twiga and the like is very believable; they care deeply about her, and have only her best interests at heart. In return, she loves them like a family, and (minor spoiler here) when they go missing, she mourns their loss. The relationship between Karou and Akiva seems less … natural, for want of a better word (and yes, I know that it involves an angel). I believed that they were drawn to each other, even though neither could figure out why, and that they had a desire to be with each other. However, their love is supposed to be the deep heartfelt love at first sight that occurs between soul mates, and I found it difficult to believe in that connection – it was accepted too willingly, and felt jarring after the slow build up of everything prior.

I did enjoy the book, even with the quibbles with the Insta-love (TM) scenario, and I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series. I’m hoping that the connection between Karou and Akiva will be developed with the same leisurely attention to detail that the other parts of the book received, and that we will continue to enjoy more of Laini Taylor’s incredible descriptive narrative.

Favourite quotes:

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”

“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.”

Daughter of Smoke & Bone is is available from IndigoAmazon and your neighbourhood independent bookstore. This copy was purchased by me for the purpose of our reading challenge. Join the discussion later this week when Michele from Just a Lil’ Lost, Chandra Rooney (@sakuralovestea) and Leah Bobet (author – Above, @leahbobet) discuss the book at our Books & Brunch session. 

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Categorised in: Personal Musing, Reviews

7 Responses »

  1. I also really loved the way Taylor blurred the lines between good and evil in this novel. I haven’t read it since last year, but I thought Karou and Akiva had such an instant connection because they had already had an entire relationship? But didn’t remember at first?

    Apparently I need to re-read this before book 2 comes out!

    Like

    • They did have that prior relationship, yes… But it was also swift and instantaneous. There was no questioning of things, and while I can accept that, it changed the whole deliciously leisurely time if the book that had been the norm until that point. I very much want to read book 2, though!!

      Like

  2. Great review – it reminds me many details of this book I’ve forgotten. Must reread in time for book 2.

    Like

  3. I’m looking forward to reading this one. It sounds pretty good. Thank you for the review. 🙂

    Like

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