Daughter of Smoke and Bone — Laini Taylor

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Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Karou has always been…different. And not just because of her aquamarine hair. All her life, the only family she’s known are chimaera, creatures made up of multiple animal and human parts; by human definition: monsters. But Karou doesn’t see them as monsters; she loves these creatures, Issa with her serpent body and the huge, hulking Brimstone. Karou fills her days with art school and running errands for Brimstone, often dangerous errands wherein she procures…teeth. She doesn’t know what the teeth are for (animal and human), but she does as Brimstone wishes.That is, until angels make their way to Karou’s world and incinerate the portals Karou uses to reach her family. One particular angel, Akiva, is confused by Karou and sets out to kill her for aiding his sworn enemy, but when the two finally face off, he finds he can’t do it. There’s something familiar about Karou, a feeling he can’t quite shake. Through Akiva, Karou learns of a centuries-old war between angels and chimaera that she now finds herself in the middle of. Choosing a side should be easy, until Karou learns Brimstone’s been hiding secrets from her, secrets about who she really is.

I can’t believe it took me this long to pick up Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And yet, crazily enough, I wish I’d waited even longer because now I’m obsessed and the third book in the series isn’t due until next year. I cannot handle that much suspense. But, in case you haven’t already guessed, I’m in love with this book and these characters. Going into the first chapter, I had no expectations. The synopsis isn’t very telling, but the cover was cool and I’d heard plenty of positive reviews. I just didn’t know what kind of world or plot to expect.

Straight up originality it what I received. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is unlike any other book I’ve read in years. Laini Taylor’s take on angels is fresh and invigorating. I don’t think I’ve read about chimaera…ever. These new plot points and ideas immediately captured my interest so that there was no chance of putting down the book once I started. But then there are the politics behind the war between the two races. I’m a sucker for well-laid-out war books. I like having both sides presented to me equally, their flaws and strong points presented for the reader to choose. There’s no black and white here, only gray, which makes the book and Karou’s particular situation endlessly fascinating. I love the way Taylor offers up both sides sympathetically so that we fully understand why Karou’s choice is so hard. Plus, Taylor’s super specific details ensure the reality of this world and highlights the sad truths of war.

Karou is an amazing protagonist. One of the first things I fell in love with was her honesty. Whenever she’s questioned about the unreal aspects of her life, she tells the truth with a quick smirk. When a waitress asks her how she managed to fly, Karou answers, “I really was flying,” with her trademark smirk. As soon as I read about this, I wondered why more characters in YA haven’t caught onto this trend. Think about it: so many shady things happen in YA fiction; vampires are secretive about their desire for blood; werewolves hide their transformation or their wolf-like characteristics; telekinetic characters blame a falling lamp on the wind. And in all these books, it’s so very obvious that these characters are hiding ENORMOUS SECRETS and yet no one ever calls them out. Our protagonists think to themselves, “Huh. That’s weird. There’s something off about him but he’s sooo dreamy,” while we’re yelling at our books, “How stupid can you be?” So, I guess, I appreciate that not only is Karou not stupid, but neither are the people in her world. When something weird happens, people point it out. And when Karou can’t easily cover up an unexplainable phenomenon, she doesn’t. Simple. Believable. Refreshing.

But Karou is awesome for a host of other reasons. She can defend herself. She’s snarky and witty. She’s suspicious (a trait sorely lacking in many YA females). She acts out like any teenager, makes mistakes, but is loyal to her family and friends and never stops trying to help others. And Taylor doesn’t just give us Karou; she also gives us Karou’s best friend, Zuzana, an insanely likable and tough friend. Zuze is not sidekick and she’s definitely not afraid to call Karou on her bullshit. She’s a force to be reckoned with and a person Karou absolutely needs in her life, as well as a person we need for comedic quips and jabs. Karou couldn’t get any luckier than having Zuze for a best friend, and I came to love her just as much as Karou and, later, to appreciate Zuze’s budding relationship with Mik. It’s easy to see that the two deserve each other and that Karou deserves a positive relationship role-model.

Speaking of relationships, Akiva is as smoldering a love interest as any. At first, there’s a slight fear of insta-love, but the further into the book you get, the more you come to trust Laini Taylor and realize she would never make that mistake. As I held out for the end and the answers I knew she would provide, I wasn’t disappointed. Well, I mean, I was, because the ending is absurdly heart-wrenching, but I was happy to see the relationship fully developed and in such an interesting style. Speaking of which, Taylor’s writing style is remarkable; her prose is beautiful, succinct, and poetic. She describes her fascinating settings in intricate details, yet cuts to the point of her plots, allowing her a smooth read that’ll sate any book-lover’s desires. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a must-read for fantasy and paranormal lovers. I admit, it does get a little graphic in its violence at parts, but all the devastation is realistic and necessary to the story’s development. The characters, settings, and conflicts are rich and captivating. This is a book I plan to read again and again.

Pages: 417
Publication Date: September 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Source: Purchased
Rating [rating: 5]

Teaser: “She had been innocent once, a little girl playing with feathers on the floor of a devil’s lair. She wasn’t innocent now, but she didn’t know what to do about it. This was her life: magic and shame and secrets and teeth and a deep, nagging hollow at the center of herself where something was most certainly missing.

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