Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Little, Brown and Company, 2011
Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a book that I picked up and really wanted to like. A strong female lead with a mysterious past trained in a variety of skills from martial arts to foreign languages and a unique setting in the city of Prague had me hopeful for something new and exciting. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is that new and exciting thing to a certain extent but at the same time there is a sense of overwrought emotional melodrama that seems to pervade the entire novel. Laini Taylor opens things up with a tongue in cheek scene involving our blue-haired lead Karou and her now ex-boyfriend, it seems he runs “vampire” tours of Prague playing up on the current vampire craze that prevails in popular culture. I rather enjoyed the playful stab at the vampire theme so prevelavent in the Young Adult demographic. It manages to provide a knowing head nod without managing to feel like mockery.
As the novel unfolds we learn that Karou works for a mysterious figure named Brimstone. He is what we might call a monster but is the closest thing that Karou has to a father. She doesn’t remember her past and the entirety of her life has been around Brimstone and his equally monstrous (if only in appearance) companions. Brimstone is a wishmonger collecting the teeth of various creatures gathered by humans looking for wishes. Karou doesn’t know how his power works, or why he collects the teeth, only that the wishes come true. Outside of her life with Brimstone Karou leads a fairly normal existence going to art school in Prague and sketching the fantastic creatures she has seen in her sketchbook. The sections leading up to this novel are interesting a do a great deal to draw readers into the mystery and wonder of Karou’s existence. Taylor easily captures the listless nature of Karou’s existence and her sense of having something missing in her life is palpable and heart-wrenching.
Brimstone constantly dodges Karou’s questions about her past. Taylor dribbles hints across the novel’s first half but it isn’t until Karou meets the mysterious and attractive Akiva that things begin to unravel. It’s at this point that some of the novel’s stronger points take back seat to the more romantic aspects of the novel. Akiva is a Seraphim (in other world’s an angel) and that leaves little doubt as to what the creatures who raised Karou are (demons, or in this case Chimara). Of course things aren’t quite as simple as Seraphim good, Chimera bad. Taylor has woven something more layered and complex here and she captures the sort of moral grey area of both sides of this struggle with a deceptive ease.
Where my problems with the novel really step in is in the romantic connection between Akiva and Karou. It tosses a bit of a monkey wrench in the narrative in the form of a lengthy flashback, not my favorite narrative device to begin with, that finally reveals the nature of who and what Karou is. I can’t quite explain why but the revelations during this section felt a bit lackluster to me. To make matters worse the sudden and intense attraction between Karou and Akiva strained my credulity a bit. Maybe I’m too old and a bit of a cynic but it felt as if Karou discarded everything about who she was far too easily for my liking.
The second half of the novels leans quite heavily on the Akiva and Karous attraction to further the plot and as a result felt a bit too forced. With the flashback taking up a large portion of this section of the novel there is little to no time for the plot points revealed in the first part of the novel to come to any sort of resolution. As a result the novel comes out of the flashback and rushes headlong into a cliffhanger. While on the one hand no really likes a cliffhanger I will say that Taylor chose a bit of a doozy; the sort of cliffhanger that would have you picking up the next book immediately after closing the first. Thankfully Days of Blood & Starlight is out now so readers can do just that. While I might complain about not really falling for the star-crossed romance of Akiva and Karou I will admit that I rather loved the mythology and sense of history that Taylor infused into the warring Seraphim and Chimera. With some juicy tidbits dropped in Daughter of Smoke and Bone I am very much invested in finding out more about the worlds of Chimera and Serahpim even if I have to sit through reading about two doe-eyed lovers.