By: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Karou lives with one foot in the real world and one foot in a magical world full of strange creatures she calls family, a world where wishes really do come true. Raised by a chimaera sorcerer named Brimstone and his trusted friends, she has no idea who she really is or which of the two worlds she truly belongs in. She spends her days in art school, all the while doing unsavory favors for Brimstone and trying to keep her human best friend from finding out about her secret life. She’s satisfied, if a little curious about where she came from and a little put off by some of the errands she runs, until the day she notices scorched hand prints on the portals she uses to pass between worlds. And when an angel named Akiva tries to kill her, her life is changed in an instant.
In the interest of full disclosure I will say this right up front: I initially had no interest in reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone. While I thought the cover was beautiful (and it’s even more beautiful once you know what it symbolizes), the blurb did very little for me in the way of grabbing my interest. I thought it was sort of vague and frankly it made it sound like it might be just another in a long line of “girl meets vampire/werewolf/zombie/ghost/merman, falls desperately in love in the time it takes to have a pizza delivered, and does a bunch of mind-numbingly stupid things that anyone with an IQ higher than 12 would never do in a billiongajillion years in order to be with this mythical love machine.” Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the genre of paranormal romance at all. When done well it can be quite lovely, but more often than not lately I’ve been finding that there are a lot of “Twilight re-imagined with Mummies!” books floating around out there, full of beautiful and aloof supernatural males and dim-witted female protagonists that make you wish it were possible to kick a fictional character directly in the neck.
However, I started seeing enough positive reviews for Daughter of Smoke and Bone that my interest was piqued and I had to see for myself what all the buzz was about. And I am so, so glad that I did, because it’s an amazing book. I can’t say enough good things about Laini Taylor’s writing style; it’s incredibly vivid and descriptive enough to bring characters and places to life without ever crossing the dirty line into purple prose. She makes mythical creatures seem totally plausible. The scenes between Karou and Akiva warmed my withered little heart without making me want to vom because they were just too over the top crazy for one another. There was plenty of tension and drama between the two of them, but it never crossed over into melodrama. And there was one scene where my eyes may have gotten a little moist, but I’m sure that was because of book dust.
The thing that really sealed this as a great book for me was the character of Karou herself. I love it that she didn’t fall into the category of female protagonist that I refer to as the “Oh girl, PLEASE” girls. She wasn’t a simpering ninny so wrapped up in the love of her life that she’s known for, oh, ten minutes that she completely forgets how to use her brain. She is (mostly) smart, she can take care of herself, she’s kind of a badass, and most of all, she’s loyal. I felt like Karou was a real person who I could relate to, particularly her loyalty to family. It seemed real to me. They may not all be pretty, and sure, they’re not above the occasional drunk & disorderly, but they’re family and we have a certain bond that ties us to them even if they do happen to be chimaera (or calling us at 4AM for bail money).
I will say that I figured out the book’s major twist early on. I don’t mean to be one of those “I knew Bruce was dead all along/I totally guessed who Keyser Soze was/it was so obvious they were living in the present day” people, because nobody likes those people. The clues are there, so I doubt I’ll be the only one to figure it out. The thing is, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book at all. If anything, it actually added to it because I loved watching things unfold. I wonder if it was an intentional dropping of bread crumbs. It’s a testament to Taylor’s storytelling abilities that even though I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen, I was still like OMG! over the details. Just totally blown away.
If all of this comes off as a bit of a love letter to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, well, I can live with that. And if it comes off as a totally platonic and not at all creepy love letter to Laini Taylor’s writing I can live with that too (unless she’s quick on the trigger with restraining orders, and in that case, I’ve never even heard of Laini Taylor. Who?). Suffice it to say that it will be a long wait for book two of the series, and once it is released I will be running to the bookstore with the speed of a wildebeest fleeing a lion on the plains of the Serengeti.