Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor
Series: Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3
Published: 2014, Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
History conditioned you for epic-scale calamity. Once, when she was studying the death tolls of battles in World War I, she’d caught herself thinking, Only eight thousand men died here. Well, that’s not many. Because next to, say, the million who died at the Somme, it wasn’t. The stupendous numbers deadened you to the merely tragic, and history didn’t average in the tame days for balance. On this day, no one in the world was murdered. A lion gave birth. Ladybugs lunched on aphids. A girl in love daydreamed all morning, neglecting her chores, and wasn’t even scolded.
What was more fantastical than a dull day?
Without a doubt, Dreams of Gods & Monsters was one of my most anticipated 2014 releases. Like so many others, I fell in love with the fantastical world that Laini Taylor has created, full of warring angels and demons and the two whose destiny may put an end to the conflict for good.
Over the course of two novels and a novella set within this world, Taylor has created dynamic, realistic characters, tense conflict, a reimagined battle of epic – even Biblical – proportions, all wrapped together in gorgeous prose. That all being said, I expected to love Dreams of Gods & Monsters, even as I expected to mourn the conclusion of a beloved series. But while I enjoyed the conclusion, I can’t say I was fully satisfied with it.
Karou has finally allowed herself to look past Akiva’s massive past transgressions (including the murder of Brimstone, her guardian and the only father-figure she’s known). After spending some time helping the White Wolf’s chimera army wreak just as much devastation on the seraphim, however, Karou comes to realize that the constant war wasn’t the vision that Madrigal (her past self) and Akiva had. Nor was it the future Brimstone sought. And so Karou reconciles with Akiva, and the two hope that the chimera army and Akiva’s band of Misbegotten rebel seraphim, can prevent the seraphim army from destroying Eretz, the land that both seraphim and chimera call home.
As Madrigal and Akiva, they never expected that their plans for a peaceful world would be easily achieved. As Karou and Akiva, they know that easy peace is not merely difficult, but downright impossible. But as Jael’s seraphim army threatens the human world in addition to Eretz, they plan to do whatever possible to achieve a long-sought peace.
The second book in the trilogy, Days of Blood & Starlight, is a book about war. But even as unrelentingly dark and gritty as it is, it is still about war as primarily observed from the sidelines (in Karou’s case in particular). Dreams of Gods & Monsters, however, puts war at the very forefront. Karou and Akiva fight against the seraphim army led by Jael many times. They watch friends die. They make tough choices that most readers cannot even begin to fathom.
Lest readers worry that this book is too dark, however, there’s a constant thread of hope running through the pages. Hope, in the form of Karou and Akiva, in the love they have for one another and the forgiveness they’re willing to bestow on each other and others who have wronged their loved ones over the years. At its heart, this is what the novel is about: what can be accomplished when people pin all their struggles on the promise of hope for a better future, of peace. It’s a fine enough message and works well within the context of the novel. But it also got to be a bit heavy-handed as the story went on. Again and again Karou and Akiva remind themselves that they represent hope for their people, that they must be the ones to enact change. True, but being force-fed that message many times made it feel as though Taylor didn’t trust her readers enough to let them discern such messages on their own. And for a book that is otherwise quite sophisticated, the repetition of this theme felt out of place.
For a book about war, the plot also seemed to lag quite a bit, especially in the beginning. At the end of Days of Blood & Starlight, Karou and Akiva have decided to move forward, to take action. But that action doesn’t occur right away (not much action at all for well over a hundred pages). Taylor has continued to expand her story’s world, adding in new characters and conflicts to the final installment. While all the new components do connect to the overarching story, they also contribute to the initial sense that the story is dragging. Readers must process so much information, and many of the plot threads don’t become linked until much later in the story.
This is not a perfect series conclusion, but it’s a satisfying one nonetheless. After the complete devastation and emotional trauma that has followed the characters since the middle of the first book, it’s nice to see the potential for good things to come to them once more. Karou and Akiva’s relationship is quite possibly the most complex aspect of this novel: on the one hand, it can sort of be classified as instalove, but it’s not that difficult to realize that it’s far, far more finely wrought than to be reduced to that term. In Dreams of Gods & Monsters, Karou finally comes into her own, as both the human girl Karou who was raised by monsters, and as the former chimera Madrigal. Her relationship with Akiva does not define her growth, but truly supplements it (and allows Akiva to gain some necessary development in the process). I have no complaints about the characterization of either of them.
The plot and the focus on the two protagonists does limit any development of the secondary characters, unfortunately. Taylor has some old and new characters share in the main conflict with Karou and Akiva, from the kirin Ziri, to the seraphim warrior Liraz, to the humans Mik and Zuzana, to the young scientist Eliza, who somehow ties all the threads together. I like the secondary characters, but for the most part they felt supplemental, their actions more important than their individual development.
Patience is perhaps the greatest asset that readers should possess when starting this novel. Taylor is a skilled writer and is able to tie everything together very well, but doing so takes a lot of time, and there are a lot of detours along the way. This isn’t quite the enthralling, utterly consuming story that can be found in Daughter of Smoke & Bone, “Night of Cake & Puppets,” or even Days of Blood & Starlight. For those invested in seeing how Karou and Akiva’s story ends up, however, the conclusion is still worth the time and effort.
Rating: 3.5 stars