Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

I have something to confess to you all. I am a great big wuss who likes happy endings. I tend to check my books to ensure I'm not going to get clobbered in the gut just as I finish reading. And had I done that with The Daughter of Smoke and Bone while in the store, I likely wouldn't have bought it. Brace yourself, people. This book has a totally mind-blowing cliffhanger ending where something totally devastating happens that will leave you reeling. If the book wraps you up in it's story and characters the way it did for me you will be left with your mouth hanging open as you struggle for breath while your brain scrambles to process what you just read.

But don't let wuss tendencies take over. It took me a day or two to coax the book open, but I'm very glad that I did. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a book that will make you relish every moment that you spend with it and so far this month, it is the best thing that I have read. Now, let me tell you why...

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)

Around the world, black handprints 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 grown 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?

There are two things that are worth looking at here: plot and world building / mythology. I feel that Laini Taylor did a fine job with both. Despite my hesitancy to begin this book, I still found myself drawn in immediately by the beautiful writing and the pace at which she gradually introduces the main story and overall world that she has built to the reader. I felt that I had time to get comfortable with Karou and her life in Prague before things started to get incredibly crazy or heavy, which was good.

I love the way that Taylor created her Chimeras. This is the first time that I have seen these particular creatures used in a YA novel, and actually the first time I can recall seeing variants on the standard chimeran form (which if memory serves me is a mix of lion, human, snake and bird). Every member of Karou's strange little family had his or her own distinct quirks that effected the relationship between them, and thus in turn the plot overall. The reader is given time to adjust to the bending of the normal world, the peeling away of a curtain to reveal the magical world that is just beyond a veil. It allowed me to get my feet wet little by little, so to speak, before I was plunged into the story face first.

And what a story this is. It has everything you could possibly want: humor, adventure, romance, action... the list goes on and on. And each thing is balanced carefully and presented in beautiful prose that felt 'smooth' as I read it. I did not find myself struggling to continue; my gaze seemed to slip across the words so that pictures of the events were forming in my mind. This is generally what I am talking about when I say that a book is well paced or that it 'hooked' me. And Daughter of Smoke and Bone delivered on both accounts. 

The only area of complaint that I might hurl toward the book regarding plot is that as we reach the last third there are sections where we bounce back and forth between the past and the present. It is not that these are done poorly or that they are unnecessary. On the contrary, they are actually vital. But I found myself having a bit of trouble keeping focus on the two different times and the events that were being detailed because this was being done while important things were going on in the present. This meant that the flashbacks / recollections, whether they were directly from a character or simply the author changing lenses, jarred me and effected pacing slightly. 

The Characters:

Karou was an interesting and likable heroine. Despite her differences and circumstances, she came across in such a way that I immediately connected with her and cared about the things that were happening in her world. I found the balance that was struck, though Karou, of the normal and the strange to be exceedingly well done. A main character needs to be the eyes of the reader, regardless of what form of POV a story is told in, and Karou was an excellent lens through which to share the world being created since she both was and was not a total part of either portion. 

Akiva took some time for me to click with, but I think that this was done intentionally. Despite what eventually happens, no one can accuse Taylor of giving us overly sappy, mindless insta-love. Despite the fact that he and Karou can both fight, I found that they were a contrast, his hardness to her softness, and they balanced each other out. Akiva is not necessarily my favorite male lead of all time, but I found him sufficiently likable and I felt that he and Karou complimented each other nicely.

Other characters, such as Kaz (Karou's ex), Zuzana (Karou's best friend), and some of the Chimera like Issa and Brimstone were also extremely interesting and complex. Laini Taylor did not waste her time making cardboard cutouts. Every character who matters in Daughter of Smoke and Bone is distinct and memorable for some reason or another. 

The Romance:

Given the complex nature of the relationship between Akiva and Karou, and the fact that if I went into a lot of detail about it I'd ruin the book for you, this is going to be a challenge to talk about. I think that they were fun to read about as a pair and I was cheering for them all the way. 

I like the fact that they did not start out all mushy and that as 'enemies' it was not simply a smoke and mirrors game. They actually do fight and injure each other and it actually does take effort and time for them to begin to trust one another. 

Now, I realize that there are some of you who are likely cringing at what I just said. "They fight? They hurt each other? That's abuse!" Well, that's an argument for another day. Here is how I see it, personally: As a world is warped for the purposes of storytelling, our suspension of disbelief must bend with it and be willing to go places that we, as individuals, might not actually go in real life.

 What happens between these two is not disruptive to an extent where my suspension of disbelief was effected, but your mileage may vary. That is something that is subjective and that is determined by the individual. I'm only telling you about it so that you can make your own assessment. (Since that's the point of a review, anyway.)

Also, please note that I am talking about what happens before they get to know each other and their relationship begins to develop. Had they constantly shifted between being romantic and behaving as they did in the beginning, my view of the book and the characters would be vastly different. 

I particularly enjoyed watching Karou translate between Akiva and Zuzana since their personalities are so vastly different and Zuzana had no qualms in what she was saying. (I think my favorite line here was "Must. Mate. Immediately." I laughed out loud.) 

In General:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an extremely well constructed, rivetingly fascinating and richly layered fantasy. Laini Taylor uses fresh and unique mythology and vividly detailed world building, seen through the eyes of interesting, likable, memorable characters to suck the reader into the pages. If your experience ends up anything like mine, you will glance up hours later to realize that you have wasted half a night away lost in story. And I can't think of any better way to be lost, can you?

If you love beautiful storytelling, fantasy, magic, romance, adventure... Then you owe it to yourself to be brave and open the cover of this book, flip to page one, and begin to read. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a deeply compelling tale which will leave you breathless, but that only assures its place of honour among other well crafted books of its genre. 

An absolute must read, fantastically written and not to be missed.


  1. I'm so glad that you liked this one! It was so imaginative I was truly absorbed in it. I had a bit of trouble during the flashbacks as well especially when they were talking a lot about the deep politics of the universe. IT got a little confusing but it didn't impede on my enjoyment of it. Great review!

    Xpresso Reads

  2. I loved this book. I really appreciated what you mentioned - how the world slowly unveiled itself so at first Karou seemed like a mysterious but mostly normal girl with boyfriend problems, then we found out about her 'other world' and then we found out who she really was. Epic, amazing.

  3. I loved this book too, and can't wait for the next book!

    I'd never seen chimaera used this way either but I think it worked wonderfully in the world Laini created. Put up against angels/seraphim, the chimaera were sufficiently beastly and demon-like for initial stereotypical purposes. But then Laini totally turned that around as the story unfolded and made angels appear threatening and chimaera were lovable. Such a cool concept!

    I too LOVED the conversation between Akira and Zuzana (with Karou translating). Zuzana made me laugh out loud several times in the book. She was a great dose of humor and the kind of best friend anyone would want!

    I had trouble adjusting to the flashbacks too. But they were so essential and so well done, that no one could call them a fault of the book. The ball scene was undoubtedly one of my favorite scenes in the book with all the imagery and tension!

    Thanks for the great review! It was a pleasure to read!
    Lauren @ Hughes Reviews

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I really enjoyed this book, even though it isn't a genre I typically read. It was unique and Laini Taylor's voice was strong and engaging. It made me want to read the sequel to find out how things can be worked out.

    Maycee Greene (LinkHelpers)


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