Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book 38: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I don't tend to gravitate towards YA fiction but I'm also not that much of a snob to avoid the genre.  In general, if I notice a lot of discussion about a particular book, I'll pick it up, and this especially tends to be the case with YA - I won't seek it out on my own but usually look forward to good recommendations: after all, I loved the Harry Potter series, His Dark Materials trilogy, and more recently The Hunger Games.  Even though I was still a bit skeptical about this one since it seemed to be marketed as fantasy/romance, enough people whose opinions I trust loved this book for me to give it a shot.  I'm so glad I did.  I ended up sitting in Panera for hours until I finished the novel, and then went and picked up the sequel immediately before going home to read it.  And I'm pretty sure I had productive plans for that day, too.

There were so many things I loved about this novel, beginning with the setting - Karou, the heroine, lives in Prague; its rather frank acknowledgement of sexuality (no, there aren't any graphic scenes, but Taylor acknowledges that teens have sex - I don't know why, but for some reason I thought YA novels gloss over that fact; I'll just blame Twilight); the creativity of her world; and the fact that the love story doesn't start to develop till much later and that Karou has very strong motivations for what she does, unrelated to romance.

As the novel begins, Karou, an art student in Prague, is being harrassed by her ex-boyfriend and juggling her life as a student in Prague, and as an errand runner/messenger for a demon named Brimstone.  Brimstone trades in teeth and wishes, ie people bring him teeth and he gives them wishes of different strengths.  Karou occasionally gets irritated with running errands, and also disapproves of the tooth trade (many of the hunters and teeth traders kill animals already on the endangered list).  While she was raised in Brimstone's shop and sees him and his assistants as family, she is also beginning to realize how little she knows and is starting to have more questions.

After being called on an errand prematurely because Brimstone's tooth supply is running low, Karou gets into a fight with an angel while in Morrocco, and notices that the doors to Brimstone's shop in several cities have handprints on them.  As she soon realizes, there is some type of war going on and she is about to be caught up in the middle of it as her family becomes endangered and she is unable to reach or contact them.

The war is between angels and demons, and while the demons have had an entrance into the world for a long time (the gates for the teeth trade), the angels have only recently rediscovered the portals back to the human world.  According to this series, the human ideas of angels come from some random sightings of angels thousands of years ago, but are not very factual.  The demons against whom they are at war are chimera, or several different species of chimera that have bonded together against a common enemy.  Brimstone and his assistants are mixtures of human and animal features, such as Issa, who is part snake/part human.  I'm assuming Taylor drew on Egyptian and Indian traditons for her ideas but the way she puts them together is very original.

While Taylor builds an exciting supernatural world, she also makes sure to give Karou ties to the human world, including a best friend named Zuzana.  In fact, I really liked the fact that Taylor focused almost as much on developing a best friend for Karou as she did the love interest.  As far as the love story goes, in ways, it felt like the weakest part of the story until a reveal towards the end which added a very poignant piece to the story.  While Akiva's motivations and fascination are explored more deeply, it seemed like Karou's feelings and interest in him arose rather quickly.  However, that really was the novel's only possible flaw, and since the novel had so many other strengths, it was hardly noticeable.

Anyway, the novel is incredibly well-written and detailed.  I would love to go into it more but especially when it comes to the angels, I'm a bit hazy on what I learned in this novel vs what I learned in the sequel.  I highly recommend this one - it's an incredibly engaging and creative story.  Just be prepared to start counting down for the third still unpublished novel.

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