It did not end well."
Set in Prague, Daughter of Smoke and Bone tells the story of Karou, a seventeen year old art student with blue hair who entertains her friends with implausible stories of gods and monsters. Except all her stories are true.
Her hair grows blue from her head and she was raised by monsters in Elsewhere, now moonlighting as an errand girl for her guardian, the part-human, part-lion, part-ram chimera Brimstone. When angels start appearing through a hole in the sky and Karou crosses paths with the haunted and vengeful Akiva, she is torn from the only family she has ever known and plunged into an otherworldly war between angels and demons.
There are many books I wished I’d written, usually for one of two reasons. A, they’re so wonderfully written, so vividly realised and so imaginative that I wish my mind worked like that. Or B, they screw up such a promising concept that it makes me want to scream with frustration. This book is firmly in column A.
First off, Laini Taylor is an incredible writer, crafting a rich world of demons, angels, worlds beyond worlds. The book itself is hard to review without retelling the story, but suffice to say the richly crafted mythology is truly something to behold. These are worlds where chimera demons exist as the granters of wishes, where angels appear through a hole in the sky, where men walk hunched from the weight of invisible creatures clinging to their backs, and telling the story from the perspective of a mortal character introduced you to the worlds and characters without ever feeling contrived. It’s a busy book for sure, with lots of exposition and description, but it never feels forced as Karou digs into her past to unravel the mysteries of her present, discovering who she is and where she fits in to the relentless war which has spilled over into the mortal world.
Written from two perspectives, those of Karou and the angel Akiva, Taylor slowly unveils both sides of the curtain that separates the mortal world from Elsewhere. Each chapter opens with a wonderfully lyrical and evocative sentence or two which gives you a hint of what’s to come. Honestly, they’re so beautifully written I want to get every single one tattooed on my body in swirly calligraphy font! There’s more than a hint of Romeo and Juliet here as Taylor gradually peels back layers of the story to explore both character’s pasts. Predictable? Perhaps a little, but the intricate storytelling is so well crafted it’s hard to pick fault. Karou is a fascinating character. She’s instantly relatable, even with the blue hair and tattoos she can’t explain. Confident without being arrogant, intriguing without being a closed book and more than capable of kicking ass when the need arises, she’s the perfect character to go on this incredible journey with. She’s a little cliché (beautiful, ass kicking, magical powers, you know the drill) but hugely enjoyable to read never the less.
And then there’s Akiva.
At the risk of sounding like a fangirl … oh who am I kidding, I love sounding like a fangirl! … I adore him! Lusting for vengeance after a horrific ordeal at the hands of his demon enemies, he's in a mission to destroy them all until his path crosses with Karou. He’s enigmatic and mysterious, only growing more complex as he is inexplicably drawn to the girl with blue hair. Without giving too much away, it was refreshing to see this “insta-love” which is so prevalent in YA to be given more depth as the pair’s history is gradually revealed. I had an almost equal soft spot for Karou's guardian/father figure Brimstone as well. Despite being built like a monster, he is patient and kind, indulging Karou's almost child-like whims at the beginning of the book and the strength of their relationship is conveyed in only a few short chapters. Karou’s best friend Zuzana however is hugely annoying and I would have been happy for her to be written out altogether. In fairness, Karou needed an anchor to the mortal world, highlighting the contrast between her two very different lives, but the stereotypical manic pixie girl irritated me no end. That said, it was nice to see a YA novel with a solid girl-girl friendship, rather than conflict with the pretty mean girl. I was slightly disappointed too that the novel was set in Prague, but yet the characters seemed overwhelmingly American (another mark against Zuzana there!). Akiva’s sister Liraz was probably my favourite supporting character though. Girl is badass!
But the real star of the show is the incredibly rich and details world(s) that Laini Taylor has brought to life. Her imagination makes me feel positively uncreative by comparison! I honestly feel like I’ve stepped back from another world, populated by real people. Or not-people in some cases. This is what books should be. Imaginative, spell binding, captivating and heart breaking. Needless to say, reviews of Day of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters to follow very shortly …