Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #1)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #1) - Laini Taylor Okay, I'm not gonna lie, ever since Twilight and The Da Vinci Code I have been extremely suspicious of very popular books with high ratings. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of those books that has been showing up absolutely everywhere since it was released. I first heard of it not long after its release on Shelfari, and of course the totally snazzy cover art with that gorgeous blue mask caught my eye. The blurb for it sounded interesting, but at the same time I thought it seemed perhaps just a bit cheesy. I never made a huge attempt to get a copy, but figured if the opportunity popped up I'd jump at the chance to read it. Especially since it has angels and demons, something I am a complete sucker for.

Cue three days ago. My boyfriend finally got over his fears of the late fees that were stopping him from going to the library, and I gave him a general list of about a dozen books for him to look for for me. Of course, as our local isn't always well stocked with my favourite genre, he only found Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It wasn't exactly what I really wanted to read, but well, beggars can't be choosers!

Spoilers ahoy~

First thing that really caught my interest was the casual yet lyrical flow of Taylor's writing. In no way is it over-the-top or excessively poetic, but she is clearly one of those people who just possesses a knack for the written word. I was able to sink into the story very quickly and ridiculously easy (it took less than 50 pages, in fact!), which was a super refreshing change. I literally have absolutely no knowledge of Prague – I don't even know landmarks or anything there, I am basically stone-ignorant about it – and yet Taylor's writing helped the city just pop out of the book and into my mind. It was really wonderful. The humour, when it showed up, often made me actually laugh out loud. Most of it was indeed in the first half of the book (Karou mentioning being jealous of Zuzana's ability to raise a single eyebrow? I laugh because I can relate so hard) but it was scattered at just the right intervals to keep the book from getting too stodgy. I always knew where I was standing with Karou, as Taylor's Show-Don't-Tell ability was top notch. Her urgencies became mine, I shared her happiness, and her sorrows often hit me like a brick.

Speaking of the setting for a lot of the book... As shallow as it might come across, I didn't realise how absolutely much I didn't want another book that was set in America. There are too many amazing places in the world that aren't even touched upon in stories. Finding out that this, for all but one tiny mention, does not take place anywhere near the US, made me all the more eager to get into the book. I really enjoyed that particular aspect of it.

I can't deny though, that on the other hand sometimes the information presented felt a little forced, almost as if the author was deliberately placing it there and telling us, “Look. Research. I did it. Yup.” Okay, forget Prague – I am extremely unworldly and know barely enough about the town I live in to get by! Many of the scenes that took place in Africa were presented beautifully, and I had no problem seeing them, feeling the scene folding out around me. It is clear that she did indeed do research, which is a lot more than some authors would try. But because I really do know nothing at all about these places, I have no idea of the accuracy of the research. Nonetheless, it feels like it was there, building a very good foundation for this story to sit on. The world-building was very strong while still avoiding too much exposition for the most part, which was delicious.

The characters also, for the most part, felt pretty strong to me. Karou is very independent, confused, aloof, open, loyal to those she loves. Zuzana was cocky, very extroverted, almost zealous in her loyalty to Karou, very real, and bad-ass as hell. I really loved Issa – most people would assume, because of her serpentine construction, that she would be clever and quick, sharp and deadly. Instead, she is a total sweetheart, gentle and absolutely loving, but almost viciously against, well – viciousness. Brimstone was very Dumbledore-ish in concept I found, though in reality the two characters are not all that alike despite their vast intelligence. Brim is slow in his patience and temper (except when he boils over, as we see in the story), he has importance in more ways than one, and a deep and very quiet love for Karou. He was, in essence, not the best father figure, yet Karou never wanted any other family than her monsters.

I have to be honest about Akiva – as the second main protagonist, it's clear that much of the story was meant to be all about him, but frankly, he...kind of bored me, for the most part. Despite my own dislike of him, he is kind of an excellent example of a 'tormented male character with tortured past who is still trying to come to terms with it'. We see them everywhere, and of course we all know one or two very well-known examples of ones that are just...blagh. No. But Akiva's past, and how it affects him presently in the story, were very well done, in my opinion. What bored me about him was mainly that his entire life rotated around Madrigal/Karou. I can fully understand why, though, considering the reasons for his upbringing – the fact that he only exists to fight, and eventually, to die in the war. He was never able to have a life. The only thing he has ever known has been warfare. He and his brethren were taught to scour their emotions from their souls, perceiving them as pointless for the war machine. The simple actions of Madrigal during their first traitorous meeting – the binding of his arm and saving his life – threw everything he had ever known into a chaotic whirling storm of What If. I can see why one devil girl became the absolute centre of his world. Nonetheless, I felt him lacking as a character, at least to me personally. It was hard to relate to him, but as it's pretty clear he's in the sequel, I imagine he has time to do a lot of soul-searching in that one.

The romantic side of the story was sort of a major no-go for me. Honestly, I thought many of the scenes making up the middle of the book just dragged out for far too long, focusing so much on the mysterious attraction between Karou and Akiva. Too much of it was spent asking 'Why? Who? What?' instead of just getting on with learning the answers. It was really the only time I found myself sighing a lot and wishing the story would carry on – I was hugely interested in the chimaera and wanted to read more about them, not infatuation. It was very close to falling into the category of Love At First Sight – and if I'm being really honest with myself, it sort of was. Twice. It's a major pet peeve of a lot of readers, but I have to give Daughter of Smoke and Bone props for not having these two just throwing themselves at each other as soon as they realise there might be butterflies (ohoho). They were both very cautious, recognising what was unfolding but not understanding why it was happening, all things considering. Akiva especially was frazzled. This cautiousness never really goes away, not even at the end when they finally began to give into their feelings. I could hugely appreciate that at least, as it really grounded the romance and made it feel more real despite the setting. A ton of my worry about this story was that their romance might turn out like another Bella and Edward. Thank Raynor I was wrong there.

I absolutely loved the chimaera and their world. I need to make a point of this as it's when I really started having trouble putting the book down. I enjoyed the shift to Madrigal's PoV far more than Karou's, which is really saying something. Everything about the world and the chimaera themselves was enthralling – it felt more like a grim fairy tale than a world ripped apart by war. One of the reviews in the cover compared it to Pan's Labyrinth, and I definitely have to agree that it has that sort of feel to it. I was not nearly as interested by the angels, as they fit a very general mould for the most part, but their hard existence was interesting and I hope they're expanded on more in the sequel.

While the ending was not entirely unexpected, it still hit like a truck. I found myself desperately wanting Akiva to not say what I knew he was going to say – that Karou's family members were gone. We've been made so well aware that for the chimaera, death isn't really a big deal – yes, it is painful and yes, it is terribly confusing, but so long as your soul is collected and a new body constructed for you, you will keep coming back. Brimstone's shop, presumably along with the magic he had invented, was destroyed. Death is now a very harsh, very real consequence of their war.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and was definitely impressed by so many different things about it! It was very well rounded, never really went stale, and had such a refreshing world. My only real criticism was how slow the middle of the book was for me (reading romance is not fun for me, actually quite the opposite) but asides from that, I am so glad I found this author. It's been a while since I've felt like I wanted to rush out and get a sequel, so I'm thankful for that.