Thursday, 18 July 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (review)

Rating: 3/4 - Recommended, with reservations
Source: Second hand from an Oxfam in Stratford
Synopsis taken from the novel's website

On the one hand, Karou is a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to Brimstone, a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.
Check out my review after the jump:

I picked up Daughter of Smoke and Bone because one of the quotes on the front was “Northern Lights and Pan’s Labyrinth in one”, admittedly it was from Stylist magazine, not somewhere I normally turn to for book recommendations, but the combination was still intriguing enough to make me pick it up. I also liked that the cover didn’t fall into the classic fantasy genre, there were no muscled men or ornate drawings of mythical creatures, just a red door and an intriguing handprint. 

The story starts off following the perspective of Karou, a teenage art student in Prague whose current biggest problem is being pestered by her ex-boyfriend. A problem she solves with a little bit of... magic. Or more accurately, a few wishes that she has been granted by her guardian Brimstone, a chimaera (a creature made up from human and animal parts), in exchange for travelling the world and collecting human teeth for him. It’s the juxtaposition of these two things, the normal and the paranormal, that makes Daughter of Smoke and Bone work for me. 

Karou is also a really intriguing character. Whilst she’s physically strong thanks to martial arts lessons for her entire childhood, she is pretty fragile emotionally. Having a monster as a guardian doesn’t exactly lend itself to having friends over, and she frequently mysteriously disappears on missions for Brimstone, meaning she’s never really been able to form connections with the people around her. At the same time, being human means she doesn’t exactly fit in at home either. She’s trapped between two worlds, a feeling that most teenagers (or actually, most people), will be able to identify with. 

I found Akiva a little more difficult to relate to. He’s an angelic soldier, hardened by decades of battle between the worlds of seraphs and chimaera. He’s also pretty much every cliché that you would expect from a romantic male lead in a fantasy novel. Chiseled chest? Check. Brooding yet sensitive? Check. Piercing eyes? Check. At the same time, I did like the way the relationship between Karou and Akiva developed, with always another twist around the corner. 

Still, my favourite thing about Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the way the world Taylor was building really leapt off the page. Whether she was describing a market in Marrakesh or a ball attended by a city of chimaera, she made me feel like I was there, seeing it through Akiva or Karou’s eyes. 

To sum up, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a gripping fantasy read, with great world-building and a plot that races along. I’ll definitely pick up the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, when it comes out in paperback. 

So what did you think? Have you read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and/or the sequel? Do you agree or disagree?

- Caroline

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