Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Published : Little, Brown (2011)
Series : Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

The Book :

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth have grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

This is my 9th novel for the Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge at WWEnd.  A friend recommended that I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  Since it’s pretty far outside the usual range of books I read, I was thinking I’d call this one my “randomly chosen” one.  My 10th review will turn up next week, on The Drowning Girl.

I’m posting this review now in order to match up with my trip to Marrakech, Morocco.  I’m actually here for business, but I liked the idea of writing a review while staying in a location where the book is partially set.  Some notable events of Daughter of Smoke and Bone occur in Marrakech, including the initial meeting of Karou and Akiva.  Just for fun, I’ve included a picture of the square where they met (from a nearby rooftop café) and of the brightly colored market Karou mentions. 
My Thoughts:

The magical setting of Daughter of Smoke and Bone was probably one of my favorite parts of the novel.  I thought the magic was pretty creative, especially the hierarchy of wishes that one could trade for in teeth.  What was done with those teeth was intriguing as well, but I’ll refrain from discussing it here in order to not give away plot points. In the beginning, the fantastical creatures appeared to be angels and devils, but I appreciated that it was not so simple as that. The seraph and chimaera (a variety of human/animal races) societies, and even the neverending war between them, didn’t follow the traditional religious story. The seraphs were not necessarily good creatures, as the chimaera were not necessarily monsters.  Karou began the story ignorant of everything beyond her chimaera family’s shop, and discovering the rest of the supernatural world along with her was one of my favorite aspects of the novel.

While I enjoyed the setting, I had mixed reactions to the major characters. I appreciated that Karou had a female best friend, and that she expressed genuine interest in her life and personal troubles.  Karou also cared deeply for her chimaera family, and it was nice to read about a character that was concerned for the wellbeing of the people who loved her.  However, this was also a novel where all of the main characters were amazingly beautiful, and there were many long, lingering descriptions of their physical qualities. There is a message that beauty is not everything, as the story opens in the aftermath of Karou’s failed relationship with a beautiful jerk.  Unfortunately, this is undermined by the constant focus on the physical beauty of the characters. 

In addition to her extreme physical beauty, Karou is shown to be exceptional in many ways.  She’s intriguingly mysterious, an excellent artist, speaks over twenty languages, and has been trained in martial arts since she was very small.  I am not a fan of reading about inhumanly amazing people, especially when they are praised in the text. Karou is not completely perfect, though—she has a slightly irresponsible side, which is shown when she uses magic for frivolous things (dying her hair, embarrassing people she doesn’t like, etc.).  Karou was certainly a likeable character, in terms of personality, but reading about all her superlative qualities was sometimes a bit annoying.  

I liked reading about Karou, as she lived her double life and went on errands for her chimaera family.  However, after the male and female main characters met, it became clear that Daughter of Smoke and Bone was primarily a romance, of the supernatural “Romeo & Juliet” variety.  As is usually the case with instant love, the romance was based almost entirely on physical attraction, and was fueled by both of them being incredibly gorgeous.  As in Romeo & Juliet, they were also star-crossed lovers, and they were seriously endangered by the circumstances surrounding their relationship. I believe this is a case where I am emphatically not the target audience of the novel, so I’m sure that there are many other readers who found the romance much more affecting than I did.  I was most impressed by the twist at the end of the novel, which seemed to send the story on a very unexpected (and welcome) path.  I am curious if the next two books in the trilogy will maintain or negate the effect of the ending of this one.

My Rating: 3/5

After reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I have to conclude that I am really not the target audience.  I am not a fan of romance or star-crossed lovers, and I dislike the importance that is often accorded to instant love. I’m also not particularly into stories that feature many descriptions of amazingly beautiful characters. However, many of the characters were very easy to like, and I enjoyed reading about Karou's family and friends.  Also, what was revealed about the system of magic and the fantastical world was pretty interesting, and seemed to have potential for more development in the future novels.  The ending of the story stepped impressively away from what I expected, though I wonder if this ending will be preserved in the future novels.  

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