Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Once Upon a Time, an Angel and a Devil Fell in Love. It Did Not End Well."

Daughter of Smoke & Bone

by Laini Taylor

Published by Little, Brown Book for Young Readers

4 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda

Sometimes I think that I should start a young adult shelf in my house just in case I decide to have kids. Then I'll have all of this amazing novels waiting for them, like gleaming gems plucked out of the murky waters of young adult literature. The Hunger Games will be there, as will the Chaos Walking series, The Dust of 100 Dogs, and now I think I'll toss Daughter of Smoke and Bone onto that imaginary shelf as well. (This shelf is likely to remain imaginary as I'll probably spawn only illiterates or, worse yet, Valley Girl types who, like, soooo totally want to know where the Twilight books are.)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a unique fantasy with a quirky, blue haired main character named Karou. Karou is an art student living in Prague where she is surrounded by musicians, artists, and actors--all delightful Bohemian types who live to create and entertain. However, Karou's friends are often frustrated by her mysterious disappearances and her evasiveness about her family and past. We soon discover that Karou has a reason for her caginess about truth--she was raised by monsters. Chimera, to be more exact, who inhabit a portal between our world and another. Karou was raised by Brimstone, the part man, part lion, part crocodile, part ram "wishmonger" who trades wishes for teeth. What he does with the teeth and why he's willing to pay such a high price remains a mystery as not even Karou is trusted with this secret. As black handprints appear on the doorways Karou uses to travel the world in search of Brimstone's precious teeth and sightings of angelic beings with wings of fire are reported, Karou begins to unravel the secrets of her origins and her role in the battle for another world.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is elegantly written, far from formulaic, and embraces the outcasts among us. It's obvious that Laini Taylor took her time with crafting this story and draws upon a variety of cultural sources (as well as her own imagination) to create a world unlike any other. Karou is a kick ass heroine, able to take care of herself in volatile situations, but there's still a recognizable and flawed human beneath the tough veneer. The story of the war between the chimera and the angels is also compelling and I'm anxious for the second book as I hope the focus shifts more to this alternate reality.

The first half of the novel immediately drew me in and maintained a brusque pace. However, after the arrival of the angel Akiva, the narrative slows down somewhat as we have the inevitable "love at first sight" plot device that no young adult novel with a female protagonist can do without. And now, a quick rant: seriously, why can't we hold off on the romantic entanglements until the second or third book of a series? Why can't we develop a female character who doesn't have an immediate choice to make between two male characters who are foils for one another? Why must we always be presented with the amazingly talented, self-reliant, strong woman who turns out to be a quivering damsel in distress underneath all the aforementioned bad-assedness? Or, better yet, why can't she meet the potential love interest in the first novel and get to know him before giving her heart to him in the sequel? Young adult writers of the world, hear me! Give us a woman who proves she doesn't need a man by taking the time to convince us she's powerful, strong, and independent by letting her carry a novel all by her little ol' lonesome before we bring in the inevitable love interest.

So, anyhoo, I freely admit to much eye-rolling and muttering of "you've got to be shitting me" during this part of the book. Of course Akiva is unbelievably beautiful (although thank the heavens that he doesn't sparkle) and spiritually broken because of a past love-gone-wrong. But he begins to hope again when he meets Karou. I was ready to mark the book down to a 2 1/2 star based upon that alone. However, I will say this--at least Taylor later provides a reason for the love at first sight scenario that allowed me to give her a pass (although I still think a little less time could have been spent rhapsodizing about Akiva's beauty).

All in all, with the exception of the blossoming romance bit, I really loved this book. It has it all: gorgeous description, exotic locations, believable characters, humor, and some of the best world-building I've seen in a young adult fantasy. 

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