Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication date: November 6 2012
Hardcover: 528 pages
In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Karou must come to terms with who and what she is, and how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, mysteries and secrets, new characters and old favorites, Days of Blood and Starlight brings the richness, color and intensity of the first book to a brand new canvas.
Stand alone or series: Sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: OMG because I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone so much. It was one of my top 10 books of 2011.
Warning: this review contains inevitable spoilers for book 1 in the series. Trigger warning: rape.
Laini Taylor is doing really interesting things with her series. When it comes to romance in the Paranormal/Fantasy YA landscape, more often than not the reader is presented with truly problematic pairings where rape culture is normalised and where insta-love is presented as par for de course and in lieu of actual romantic development.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a book with a very strong focus in the romance between Karou/Madrigal and Akiva. A romance that was not only forged on the insta-love Furnace of Doom but also one depicted as having the no holds barred/soul mates kind of dynamic. That love was all the more impacting because it was also an impossible romance between enemies who dared to dream about ending the war between their people. At the end of that book, we know how well this turned out (not): Madrigal was killed but eventually resurrected as memory-less Karou. Akiva, thinking Madrigal was well and truly dead, went on a killing rampage. It ended with Karou recovering her memories and realising what Akiva had done and the two breaking up, therefore subverting the usual YA romantic trope and that was AWESOME.
At one point in Days of Blood and Starlight, Karou says that their story is like Romeo and Juliet’s but instead of waking up to find that Romeo had committed suicide, she wakes up to find out that he went on to decimate not only her entire immediate family, destroy her city and then proceed to commit genocide against her entire race. Lovely.
And that’s the actual starting point here: the insta-love that doesn’t work and is not rewarded for its wtfuckery. The story then in Days of Blood and Starlight deals with the after, with the guilt, with Karou finding out that HOLY CRAP, she dared to dream of love and that’s what happens when you hook up with a fanatical dude. Because there is no denying: Akiva has lost his shit so completely and how do you come back from that?
You can’t. Because genocide: not an acceptable response to your lover’s death.
Akiva knows that. Karou knows that. And so they are apart. And in the “apart”, they come to realise that their dream of peace needs to be bigger than their dream of togetherness.
But enough with the romance because unlike what I might have led you to believe with my rambling above, this book is not about love at all, it is actually about war. Karou is back with the few surviving Chimera, working alongside Thiago, the abhorrent man who killed her, in order to create an army of monsters to avenge their people.
In the meantime, there is a lot of emotional angst here. Karou is drowning in guilt for daring to fall in love with the enemy and mistakenly equates her dream of peace and love with the ensuing mass-murders on both sides. Part of her journey is realising that the love and the dream are not the problem. Revenge is. But before she gets to this realisation, the Karou of the first book is replaced with a meek, emo-version of herself, someone who makes terrible, stupid mistakes in the name of making amends (at one point I actually expected Akiva and Karou to burst into singing “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I am living”).
And it’s like, being complicit with genocide: not an acceptable response to your guilt.
Sorry, going back to the romance briefly: I do wonder what is going to happen. Because surely there is no way to mend this. NO WAY. There can’t be. Especially considering that yes, Akiva feels immense guilt, but his guilt comes only once he knows Karou is alive. If she was still dead, I got the feeling he would not feel this way. And I have a sneaky suspicion that because both of them have been involved with mass killings to some extent or another, in some creepy way all could be forgiven in the end because both did unspeakable things? Like in a really wonky, problematic mathematical equation in which each other’s actions are annulled like they never happened or something because… True Love. Surely, this is not where this story is going, is it?
And I can’t begin to express how fucked up this is, and how terrible the consequences are. And it becomes really clear, really soon, how their world is the shittiest place EVER. Both Angels and Chimera are immersed in this bloody war and holy crap, this book is dark, violent and emotionally draining and at points I just wanted to stop reading and get out just so I could breathe. In fact, reading some pages felt like being punched.
Laini Taylor is a brilliant writer and there is no denying that the harrowing version of Karou’s story is as engaging and beautifully written as its lighter companion (book one).
Those things said, I can’t help but to think that structurally speaking this book is a bit of a mess. There is a lot of head-hopping with random characters providing the point of view for a couple of pages then disappearing altogether from the narrative.
There is also a point toward the ending of the book where the narrative – which thus far had been linear – becomes choppy as it goes back to hours or days before a certain point in the present time just so there could be an extremely contrived “gotcha” moment.
Zuzana and her boyfriend Mik, as awesome as they are – and I mean it, I just love their love story as well as the loyalty and friendship between Karou and Zuzana – had no place in this story. Although I get the intention of adding a lighter tone to an otherwise grim story as well as giving Karou some footing in the human world, their presence in the proceedings felt forced and their comic lightness was misplaced in the midst of such portentous happenings.
Finally, part of me wonders if some of this violence isn’t a bit gratuitous, just to make a point. And then you have an extremely violent and completely unnecessary attempted rape scene. As though there wasn’t enough evidence of the violent and abhorrent nature of the attacker already so let’s add humiliating sexual violence toward its main female character as well.
Ultimately, Days of Blood and Starlight is an emotionally impacting book with a solid story and good overall plot developments. But unfortunately, it is nowhere near as awesome as its predecessor.
But, as I said before: Laini Taylor is doing really interesting things with her series. I just don’t know how I feel about them. I do remain curious to see where it goes though.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living—one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.
Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was a like a jewel-box without a jewel—a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.
This was not that world.”
Additional Thoughts: We are a stop on the official blog tour today! Go HERE to check out what the author has to say about the romance between Akiva and Karou and to enter the giveaway to win a copy of the book.
Rating: 6 – Recommended with reservations.
Reading Next: Dragon’s Bait by Vivian Vande Velde
Buy the Book: (click on the links to purchase)