September 15, 2012

Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
Published: 2011, Little, Brown & Company
Series: Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book
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Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.

I do not think it's possible for me to write a review that truly does justice to this absolutely stunning book, but I will try. It's so vague and abstract and utterly wonderful that it's one of those books you just need to read to understand. But for the few who for some reason haven't taken the initiative to read this yet, perhaps I can convince you. 
Karou has always been an enigma. Her body is covered with tattoos, her hair grows blue, and she always carries around a sketchbook full of fantastical beings she refers to on a familiar basis. She also happens to be a talented artist attending art school in Prague. She allows no one to truly get close to her, not by choice but by need. For Karou's sketchbook is not full of fantasy stories but of her real-life experiences. She was raised by chimaera, part-human part-beast creatures. Although she visits them frequently and assists her father-figure Brimstone in his business of creating wishes by collecting teeth, Karou is not truly one of her foster family and therefore has her feet in two worlds. She wishes to know more about Brimstone and his business but is kept at arm's length. She's kept away, that is, until the centuries-old war between the chimaera and angels envelops her into the conflict. The world of chimaera and angels is unlike anything Karou could have imagined, magical and so very tragic. 

How did such ideas come out of Laini Taylor's head? Seriously, I need to know. I want to be able to get ideas like this and have the sort of storytelling talent she has. First of all, Taylor's worldbuilding is phenomenal. The majority of the story takes place in Prague. I've never been there, but from things I've heard and the book's description itself, it is a city that does seem to hover on the borders of modernity and medieval/renaissance times. The descriptions of Prague are magical and would have been enough to satisfy me, but Karou travels many places throughout the Earth. And then Taylor creates this entire alternate universe where the chimaera and angels live. It is all so vividly described and even though almost everything about the book is so radically fantastical, I found myself just going with it all and accepting the worlds just as Taylor has created them.

It must be said that Taylor's writing style is wonderfully poetic and descriptive. It added the right amount of magic to the story. I will admit that I'm incredibly biased in how I think writing styles in fantasies should be constructed, and Taylor's writing is everything I ever want in a fantasy novel. It's third-person past tense, visually oriented, and just so very clever. Even though there are so many aspects of the storytelling itself that I loved, it's always a good thing when I notice how well-written the story is.

Despite how closed off and wary she is of others, I found Karou to be a wonderful protagonist. So many things differentiate her from a typical teenage girl protagonist, but they all work in her favor. Although she is frustrated by her inability to understand all aspects of her life, Karou doesn't let those frustrations overwhelm her. She is intelligent, empathetic, respectful, and rational. She exhibits a maturity much greater than her years. She carries with her, however, this sense of incompleteness, a knowledge that there is so much she doesn't understand about her life and about her chimaera family. And what makes Karou truly worthy of her label as a strong female heroine is her overwhelming determination: to find out about herself, to protect her family, to make sense of her world.

I don't want to go into any details here since it would be a major spoiler, but I loved the flashback section. Although the flashback section is a significant chunk of the book and doesn't include our protagonist Karou, it's still instrumentally important in piecing other aspects of the story together. I loved how it was able to give me a better understanding of Akiva and a better look at the consequences of the war between the angels and chimaera. And the romance presented in this section is a star-crossed romance like no other. Both the male and female have distinct personalities and truly epitomize the idea of using a relationship to build each other up while not allowing the relationship to become the defining characteristic of either character.

My one (very tiny) complaint would be the use of multiple points of view. I am always super critical of when authors use this, as I almost never think that it's necessary, especially if we as readers are getting two perspectives of the exact same events. This did happen a few times in Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Although Karou is definitely the protagonist and the novel is told mainly third person limited from her perspective, there are select scenes recounted from Akiva's perspective. And there are even some parts where Taylor further distances the reader and offers a more omniscient perspective of the events. I understand that she wants her readers to grasp the magnitude of some events and see how it affects others. I firmly believe, however, that there are ways to have the same messages derived while only relying on Karou's perspective. The few chapters from Akiva's point of view did help me better understand him initially, but after reading the major flashback section later on in the book, I realized that Akiva undergoes enough character-building there that his earlier POV chapters become unnecessary. Regardless of my qualms with this narrative choice, the pros of this book far outweigh the cons.

What ultimately made Daughter of Smoke & Bone such a powerful read was that Laini Taylor has this ability to take things that could easily become cliches and turn them instead into something incredibly unique. Orphan girl with a mysterious past? War between angels and demons (or chimaera in this case)? Star-crossed lovers? All done before. But the way that these elements all come together is perfectly executed and so very different from anything I've ever read before.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I think you did a pretty fantastic job of capturing this book, which I agree is hard to do. Everything about this story is captivating to me, the setting, the characters, the worldbuilding, the story...I adore it all. I can agree about the perspectives, I did find the jumps in this book to be the most off putting aspect about it (to me it was jarring to go between 3rd person over the shoulder to omniscient), but I'm willing to overlook that and love it anyway. =)

    1. Yes, I am pretty traditional myself when it comes to tenses. I think that third-person limited will always be my favorite for fantasies. But yes, everything about this book is literally so mind-blowingly amazing that my tense issue fades into insignificance. I can't wait for book two!

  2. I am SO glad you liked this one, Amanda! I loved it as well and can't WAIT for the sequel now! It was such a moving and powerful love story and while the multiple perspectives which usually bother me didn't affect me in this story, I'm still so happy you enjoyed reading this. I'm excited for the sequel in two months, so hopefully we won't be left off with another cliffhanger! *fingers crossed*

    1. I know! I'm not that romantic a person and most YA love stories leave me rolling my eyes, but this was just so well done! I just lapped it up. As far as cliffhangers go, I was actually okay with it haha. But I agree I hope the next book doesn't end with some major one.

  3. Yes! I agree 100% with everything you said, Amanda! In fact your review and my review are very similar. Love the imaginative story that Taylor has written. It is truly unlike ANY I have ever read. Wholly unique and original. Love the poetic writing. Love the star crossed lovers, ALL of them. Love that this book is as much about Karou longing to learn her own personal history. Love the hypocrisy and prejudices of Eretz that, unfortunately, mirrors our own world. Just loved all of it.

    So, one reason I stopped and commented on this review was because I just finished DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT (like yesterday.) Have you had a chance to read it yet, Amanda? If you haven't you need to get your hands on a copy ASAP, because if you think DAUGHTER OF S&B blew you away just wait until you read DAYS:)It takes this story to a whole other level.

    Excellent review!

    1. Thanks so much, Heather! I definitely need to check out your review now - I'm curious how you worded things! And no, I have not yet. I am on my library's wait list, but I may just have to buy a physical copy of it. But then I need to buy a physical copy of the first one as well. So I'm kind of banking on Christmas gifts here...if I can wait that long! I can't wait to read your review of Days of Blood and Starlight!


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