'Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.
It did not end well.'
Oh. Oh. How do I even put into words how much I loved this book?
Daughter of Smoke and Bone had been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for so long. Years, you guys. I'm not really sure what has prevented me from picking it up all this time – maybe because with regards to title and synopsis, for me it never really stood out from every other YA fantasy on my crowded shelves – never quite begged to be read. It sat there quietly for years, the cover and synopsis never doing it justice, and I was completely unaware of the gravity of feeling I would experience when I finally picked it up. And oh, the feelings. I laughed and wept and positively shivered with delight at the wonders to be uncovered in Laini Taylor's world of angels and monsters.
Karou is a blue-haired art student in Prague with a secret. Well, not so much a secret, because she doesn't hesitate to tell anyone that she was raised in the Elsewhere by magical beasts called Chimaera, and that her hair actually grows out of her head blue, or that she was born with tattoos of eyes on the palms of her hands. But she tells the truth with a sly smile which erases any credibility of her bizarre stories. Stories of Brimstone – a granter of wishes with the head of a ram and body of a lion who raised her from infancy, and for whom she collects teeth of all kinds, never knowing what they are used for.
While out on one of her errands for Brimstone, Karou is attacked by an angel who witnesses her dealing with teeth. Though a formidable enemy, the angel is stunned to find that Karou can defend herself and he lets her escape. Karou is left with questions that cannot be answered as she discovers that the angel, named Akiva, has destroyed the portals to Elsewhere where Brimstone resides, trapping her in Prague alone. Thus ensues a fast-paced race to find another way to reach her Chimaera family before the angel catches up to her to finish the deed he set out to complete. However, there are plenty of surprises for both Karou and Akiva along the way as well as the discovery of an age old war in a celestial place that threatens to spill over into our world.
'We dreamed together of the world remade.'
Karou and Akiva. How to even begin to express how much they moved me. A mythological Romeo and Juliet, their love is pure and deep yet full of tragedy. I dreaded the inevitable moment that everything would fall apart for them, as foreshadowed on the very first page of the book. Taylor writes a love story so profound and astral in depth that it borders on unrealistic and fairytale-like. However, the heartfelt and potent emotion was enough to melt my cynical heart into a puddle and I therefore absolutely absolve her for using the love at (almost) first sight trope.
I really loved – ADORED – all of the major characters and am looking forward to seeing how they develop in the next books. Taylor has a masterful ability for breathing life into her characters so that they just exist in a vibrant way without having to do a lot of telling. While reading the book, lonely, unfulfilled Karou, feisty, tiny Zuzanna, and tormented Akiva seemed to come right out of the pages, pulsing with life and love and crushed dreams and hope.
I felt really immersed in the setting of Prague with its old architecture and quirky local haunts. What is it about old cities that is so atmospheric and full of soul? It brought out a bit of wanderlust in me and I now dream of walking those same streets one day. However once the story moved into the unearthly dimensions I felt this new setting was shrouded in mystery and it was more difficult to visualize. I look forward to hopefully finding out more about this place where Akiva comes from in the next books.
The themes here are ones that have been told and written about since the beginning of storytelling: forbidden love born of feudal families or races, a journey of self discovery. Yet Laini Taylor's dark, poetic writing style and attention to detail when fleshing out her characters creates a unique experience. A part of what makes that experience so gripping is the multiple third person points of view which overlap and sometimes repeat a narrative from each perspective. The tense moments become all the more heartfelt seeing it through the eyes of multiple characters. Taylor handles this masterfully like a puppeteer with several marrionettes and a weaker author would not have been able to pull it off so smoothly. It certainly speaks to Taylor's skill that it didn't feel disjointed or choppy.
I've written about my love for Laini Taylor's writing style in my review of her most recent release, Strange the Dreamer, where I gush about how stunning it is. Now having read another of her books I can see that she truly is a rare talent and her books are works of art. I absorbed her beautiful prose into my being until it filled me right up with warmth. There's something about Laini's writing that feels cozy like a kindred spirit, even when telling gritty, gothic tales.
It really is difficult in retrospect to imagine Laini Taylor's books sharing shelf space with an ocean of fluffy YA fantasy – her books are so much more in every way. Her books have a spark of life and depth to them that make them weightier than their bindings and pages in the hand suggest. I cannot recommend this enough to those who love a gritty, urban AND mythological fantasy and books born of an unlimited imagination. I have lovingly placed this book among my favourites of all time.
My rating: 5/5 stars
Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, mythological fantasy, paranormal