Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Genre: fantasy, young-adult, supernatural
Series: Untitled series #1
Pages: 420 (hardcover edition)
Published: September 2011
Source: bought
Rating: 5/5

It's a rather large understatement to say I had high expectations for Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It was - and still is - pretty ubiquitous and lauded everywhere you find it mentioned. I was so keen on reading this novel I preordered it. I rarely preorder anything; bookbuying before seeing/touching the actual novel is one of the few area I can exercise some patience in. For example, the last book I preordered was George R. R. Martin's A Dance of Dragons after nearly six years of anticipation. But, lo and behold, even before the promised release date of September 27, a beautiful copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone appeared on my doopstep. I devoured it in two days, only stopping because of a headache so bad I literally couldn't see straight. Laini Taylor's amazing novel more than met my high hopes: she exceeded them in every way. It's a novel that delights and entertains, neither stinting on the drama and humor nor on acutely attractive brooding male characters.

It's hard to review something you love - I've had trouble reviewing this as well as The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman and Kate Morton's epic The Distant Hours. I sat on this particular review for over a week trying to analyze how I felt about it and how to express my opinions other than just fangirl squeeling ("Oh my god, I wish I was Karou. Oh, My. GOD. Akiva<33," etc). When you love a book, it's personal in a way few things are: you want everyone else to love it unconditionally, too, and hiss at any detractors. While Daughter is not the end-all be-all my review might sound like and I know many of you will not love it near as much as I did, it is and will remain one of my top favorite reads of the year/all-time. From the tagline "Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well," alone I knew I was in for an epic star-crossed love affair and had faith that Laini Taylor would handle it with aplomb and not melodrama. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a fresh read with unique elements, and note as well this is a young-adult novel that is certainly not just for young-adults.

Daughter is not a paranormal romance. Daughter is not an urban fantasy. Daughter is not a fantasy. Daughter is not a coming-of-age young adult novel with significant supernatural elements. Or rather - it is not just one of those genres individually. It is a marvelous and utterly unique mix of all four. It's the story of Karou, a blue haired, tattooed, lonely artist in Prague. A girl that "moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx," and an utterly striking protagonist. Though clearly 'special' Karou is a magnetic character and one I like immediately without reserve. She's funny, human in the most defining sense of the word and not above a little petty revenge against those who need it. Surrounded by a cheeky best friend, the "master of the eyebrow arch" Zuzanna and her strange (more on that later) family, Karou manages to come across as a lonely and very alone young woman trying to balance a hidden demanding supernatural life with human problems like exyboyfriends, though without straying into self-pity. As the mysteries pile up around the young artist, I felt questions piling up in my head, wondering if the author would pull of answering all of them to my satisfaction: who is Karou? What is Karou? Where did she come from, and where/who are her parents? And like most reviews note: what exactly is up with the creepyass teeth?! While I thought the mystery went on too long at the time, the pacing and reveal feel absolutely perfect when they are - finally - uncovered. I should never have doubted.

The secondary characters are also mysterious, powerful... and above all, different. Hinted at in the tagline, Karou's adopted family is firmly in the "devil" camp - though the correct name is chimaera and one and all, from the snakelike Issa to the giraffe-necked Twiga, are never anything less than kind to the bluehaired waif they raised. I enjoyed the "humanness" Laini Taylor brought for her monsters. No side is black and white in this eternal way between angels and devils, and I thoroughly appreciate the 'human' monsters/crazed angels over a more black/white/ absolute scenario. Karou runs messages for Brimstone, a mysterious chimaera collector of teeth and granter of wishes - which allows her to eventually run into the angel foretold: the sexy and dangerous Akiva. A beautiful and forbidding seraphim sworn to fight the chimaera, Akiva sells his brooding mysteriousness and past pain without overplaying it.  It took me a while to buy into more than his obvious superficial appeal, but the haunting backstory added a layer of depth to his personality. His looong life is a nice foil for Karou's shorter mostly conflict free existence of whim.Their chemistry is palpable and sizzling: one of the more exciting YA romances I can think of, honestly. (Wow, this is still waaaay fangirlly. It's just that good.)

More love: Laini's writing. Not only is it lyrical and poetic, but she manages to personalize everyone and everything - often with a dab hand at humor or image. Like Zuzanna'a master eyebrow mastery perfectly creates a sardonic, but caring face. Zuzana bursts with flair and personality: all the fun isn't reserved for lead role Karou. And the sparkle is not just reserved for the people: the setting benefits from the author's talent as well. Prague. Oh my god Prague. Between this and Wasserman's addicting The Book of Blood and Shadow I'd say this has rocketed to the top of my "Cities I MUST Visit in Europe" list. From poetic and vibrant passages like this,

The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century - or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreams, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies.

to the day-to-day life of Karou, I was struck again and again by Ms. Taylor's narrative, consistently in love with the vibrant prose and the very-much-alive city it gave birth to. I loved the beautiful, not purple, prose, which consistently evoked colorful imagery of the setting, the characters, and the amazing world (in, within, around Prague) that wordsmith Laini Taylor has crafted. In a vibrant city of such history - and supernatural myths too of foundation by a witch - Laini Taylor breathes fresh life into old themes of forbidden love, fallen angels, and even the battle between good/evil/Heaven/Hell.

My few, teensy complaints: the "big reveal" to Zuzanna wasn't. It was offscreen and almost hastily brushed aside with a demonstration - and I wished for more time with the diminutive Czech scenestealer. I also felt that Karou and Akiva had a teensy bit of an instalove situation a la Twilight, but that fear was happily quashed. SPOILER AHEAD, please do not read if you've yet to get your hands on a copy. Seriously it's the next sentence. I also worry that the Karou I liked so much, identified with so closely - might "disappear" due tothe big twist/revelation near the end. I worry that the essential "Karouness" will be lost and I'll feel different about her in the second book. I hope not and have almost every faith Laini Taylor will not steer me wrong.

The story is striking and imaginative and unforgettable. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a genre-blending exercise of win, unlike anything I have read. It's a new, charismatic spin on the angel/devil/seraphim/nephilim/chimaera theme, populated with real characters with actual personalities - relayed by dialogue and deed rather than an infodump. I loved the nicely tuned balance of action and wit, drama with imagination and wordbuilding on a grand-scale. When's book two out? I cannot and hope not to wait long for another installment in this spellbinding world.


  1. Wow! This sounds like a good one to purchase! Thanks for the excellent (as always) review.
    Mary, A Book A Day

  2. I highly recommend it, Mary. It was more than amazing: it was my favorite read of the year so far!
    And thanks for the compliment. I always enjoy your blog so its nice to hear mine's not too shabby!

  3. I've heard a lot of great things about this book. I'm really interested in reading it :)

  4. I've heard so much about this book! It sounds great.

  5. Great review! I've heard good things about this book and it's one I can't wait to read!

    susanw28 (at) mindspring (dot) com

  6. I loved your review. I'm ready for a 5/5 book with a fresh new world feel. Thanks for the review:)

    bchild5 at aol dot com

  7. This book sounds awesome! I would love to read it. Your review is interesting and it captivated my interest!


  8. Your review makes me want to read the book! And hopefully win it *fingers crossed*


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