Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown (US) / Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Publication date: September 27th
Hardcover: 432 pages
“Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.”
The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. ‘He never says please’, she sighed, but she gathered up her things.
When Brimstone called, she always came.
In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.
Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought em>
Stand alone or series: First book in a new series.
How did we get this book: We both got review copies from BEA
Why did we read this book: We are both big fans of Laini Taylor, and, considering the big hullabaloo around Daughter of Smoke and Bone, of COURSE we were gonna review this title.
Ana: To say that I was anxiously waiting for this book would be the understatement of the century. I have nothing but words of praise for Laini Taylor’s books and in fact, I would go as far as to say that Lips Touch has some of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. So yes, I was very anxious to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and all this anxiety panned out: this is one of the most incredible books I’ve read in a while with an awesome main character, beautiful writing and a good story.
Thea: I think everyone was excited for the new release, and I was no exception! Everything that I have read from the illustrious, National Book Award finalist Ms. Taylor has been fantastic – featuring beautiful writing and memorable characters – so I was thrilled when I saw the huge publicity push behind Daughter of Smoke and Bone (but also the teeniest bit anxious, because, you know, it’s The Hype Machine). After reading the book, I have to agree with Ana that my anxiety was largely unfounded. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is another gorgeously written story with a wonderful heroine and some seriously awesome worldbuilding and characteristically lovely prose. My only reservation? Well…it’s also a big ol’ paranormal romance (which blindsided me about halfway through the book). But more on that in a bit.
On the Plot:
Ana: It’s going to be super hard to talk about Daughter of Smoke and Bone because the main storyline contains a heavy element of mystery that is slowly revealed to the reader (who follows this unveiling through Karou’s eyes – what is new to us is new to her as well), and since this is not only beautifully done but also, AWESOME, I feel it would be to the detriment of any reader to have it spoiled so I will try my best to refrain from going into too much detail about those revelations. Suffice it to say is that the main storyline works in several lawyers and they involve not only the mystery of Karou’s own existence but also that of the Elsewhere – an entire world existing apart (and yet connected to ours).
In terms of the story, one of the best things for me how there is a stark contrast between the beginning and the ending of the novel. At first, it seems the story is quite mundane until it becomes something rather extraordinary. There is this entire separate world, with its own mythologies and stories and this raging war between two species: the Seraphim and the Chimera and it is all so dramatic; and even though it might sound as though you’ve heard it all before because the word Seraphim and War are usually conjoined , I guaranteed you haven’t. This story is unique and it’s unique because of the Chimera, and everything about their lives. And I love the ideas behind this story (politics, and mythos, and hatred and love) and how everything comes together perfectly in the end and I will just say cryptically, that by the time everything (or almost everything) was revealed and the past and the present combine it was like, my mind = blown.
The setting too is quite different: part of the story is set in Prague and it is so vividly incorporated into the story that it was like being there again. I loved a lot of it was set in Josefov, the old Jewish neighbourhood, and one my favourite places when I visited. Setting and story aside, the other main aspect of this book is of course, the writing: anyone who has ever read Laini Taylor and loved her books, will probably know what I am talking about. Her talent lies in achieving what very few can: her writing is lyrical without being purple; it is beautiful and dramatic without being cheesy; it is descriptive without being info-dumpy; it is atmospheric and yet atmosphere never overshadows.
If I have one bone (hee) to pick would be how extremely romantic this book turned out to be and it features the type of romance that I seem to dislike very intensely these days: the insta-love/no holds barred/soul mate type of romance. HOWEVER. In all fairness, even though there is a heavy side of romance, I don’t think that LOVE is the point of this book especially considering how it ended. I think there is a lot more to this story and the main romance is perhaps the catalyst to everything that is going to happen and I am totally on board with that.
Ultimately, I loved this book wholeheartedly, romance and all. It was a very sensuous experience: read it slowly, enjoying the ride, savouring the writing, and being seduced by the language.
Thea: I wholeheartedly agree with Ana regarding the nuances and awesomness that is Laini Taylor’s writing in this novel, as well as the strengths of the worldbuilding and mythology that underlies Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The setting of Prague is so lovingly detailed (as is Morocco, and the realm of Elsewhere, I might add), I felt as though all of the details truly exist in real life – not just the tourist landmarks, but the quiet workshop that is home to Brimstone, the pub called Poison with its homely goulash and a statue that reminds Karou of Pestilence, Karou’s impossibly small yet comically high-ceilinged apartment. Ms. Taylor has a beautiful way with imagery, and her words bring Karou’s worlds to life in this novel.
Beyond the aesthetic, I also have to express my admiration for Ms. Taylor’s writing in regards to plot. The story can be divided in two basic sections: the Before, in which Karou lives a mundane (ok, maybe not so mundane, but at least routine in its oddness) life as an art student in Prague by day and errand-runner for the Chimaera by night, always feeling like something is missing from her life but never quite sure what it is. Then there’s the After, in which shit goes down and we learn the truth of the Chimaera and their battle with the Seraphim, and what role Karou plays in this strange, war-torn world. It’s a testament to Laini Taylor’s writing that the both parts of the book gel so well – for even though there’s a lack of direction in the Before part of the book, and even though the details of the war between the Chimaera and Seraphim are so rushed and compressed in the After part, I was so completely immersed in the novel that the analytical part of my brain was happy to take a backseat to pure enjoyment. Plus, there are so many wonderfully imaginative elements to the novel that have only begun to be teased out – the use of teeth and jewels and their importance to Brimstone, the concept of “wishes” and their denominations, the later revelations in the book – and I cannot wait to see what happens next.
Of course, while I enjoyed the writing and the worldbuilding and all of the different elements encompassed by Daughter of Smoke and Bone…there’s also The Big Fat Romance. I am not a fan of the Insta-love/Romeo-and-Juliet/Must-Have-You-Or-DIE! type of love stories so popular in these types of books. In fact, I had not even the slightest inkling of an idea that Daughter of Smoke and Bone was, actually, a paranormal romance. But it is. And that completely blindsided me about halfway through the book (in fact, it is the romance that is the breaking point, if you will, that separates the Before from the After). The elements are all very, very familiar. There’s the dark angel that is so Hurt and Brooding and Tortured by his lost love…until he sees THE GIRL, who is Gorgeous and Innocent and Pure and He MUST HAVE HER even though it is against [Insert type of paranormal creature here] Rules and Mores.
That said, to simply boil down Daughter of Smoke and Bone to the Paranormal Romance label is to do the novel a disservice. Because, you know what? The book is in fact really, really good. And, once you get past the copious amounts of nacho cheese, there’s a lot more to the story than you’d expect.
On the Characters:
Ana: This section is going to basically be a love-fest. I talked about the stark contrast between the beginning and the ending of the novel and this is even more clear when it comes to its main character Karou. She starts off as a typical teenager, enjoying her life, going to art school, having friends and boyfriend problems, spending magical wishes on foolish things like wishing her hair to be blue. As the story progresses, Karou changes – in more ways than you can imagine but even though so much happens she remains basically the same in terms of personality and strength. I loved, LOVED Karou: she is that type of character that knows her own worth, who can fight a good battle but at the same time she is not afraid of being vulnerable and admitting how much she wants to be loved, how lonely she feels. I loved her loyalty to her friends and above all, to her adopted family – the Chimera who raised her. Even though there were a lot of frustration there, for all the unanswered questions and secrets kept from her, she still looked at this family with love and devotion. What happened in the end – both the unveiled secrets and the actions – just about broke my heart. But I loved how she reacted to it all and I have nothing but respect for this character.
Then, of course there is Akiva, another main character who more or less shares the narrative point of view with Karou. Little by little it is revealed why he is important and why. Although I understood his importance to the story and appreciated part of it, to be honest, I was less impressed with Akiva as a character – both his physical description (impossible beauty) and his demeanour and emotional state reminds me of too many Paranormal Romance heroes.
And of course, there is Madrigal – an awesome Chimera, a warrior tired of war, who carries this secret and whose actions in the name of love have terrible, unexpected repercussions.
Another aspect I loved about the characters in the novel: that they are all vulnerable and strong, that they are earnest but make mistakes. I loved that the main characters are moved by love and good intentions but those sometimes are not enough and can and will have terrible consequences. It is totally sad and messed up but incredibly moving as well. As I said before, love is a catalyst to something else – what comes next, I am simply dying to know.
Thea: I also share the Karou love, and for mostly the reasons that Ana mentions. She’s a young girl that has seen and been through A Lot – she’s never known who she really is or where she comes from, just that she was taken in by a huge hulking chimaera beast-man named Brimstone, and with snake-woman Issa and the small, winged Kishmish she was raised in a strange but loving home as the human surrogate daughter of devils. Karou is passionate and honest, and, as her name suggests, she represents hope. That doesn’t mean she’s a perfect character – in fact, of all of the “wishes” she takes in the novel, ALL of them are spent on herself and on frivolous things. She wishes for blue hair, for an enemy’s eyebrows to grow thick and fat as caterpillars no matter how much they are plucked, for her bedsprings not to squeak, and so on and so forth. But she’s also a dear friend and loyal, as Ana says, and she will do anything for those she loves, and that endears her as a heroine.
As for Akiva, well, I think Ana has kind of said it all. He’s very much your typical Tortured Paranormal Romance (Anti)Hero. You know the type. The guy that has loved and lost and thinks nothing can save his soul from the abyss of darkness…until he sees HER. Blargh. Not my favorite, but, to be fair, Akiva is better written than any of his unfortunately popular ilk.
Much more fascinating to me were the side characters – the fallen Izil, the Chimaera Brimstone and his quiet, fierce countenance. The serpant lady Issa, and Kishmish. And, of course, the tragic mysterious figure of Madrigal. These are the characters that made the novel sing for me, and for whom I will eagerly be awaiting upon my return to Karou’s story.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: Daughter of Smoke and Bone is, as of now, one of my favourite books of 2011 and as a Totally Awesome Book, it has a reserved spot on my top 10.
Thea: Reminiscent of N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, featuring a strong heroine, fascinating worldbuilding, and luscious prose, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a fantastic novel that resonates with the twin themes of hope and love. It’s not the perfect book for me, but it’s certainly a very good one, and one that I recommend to all.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can download the first 5 chapters of the novel using the widget below:
There are five trailers in the series, done by the UK publisher which you can watch here.
Ana: 9 – Damn Near Perfection
Thea: 8 – Excellent
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