Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Before I let Panda go on her rant, I would like to provide a small summary to explain a few things:

The book is basically about demons and angels warring. Karou, its main character, is a 16 or 17 years old (I forget) who was adopted by a demon (called chimera) named Brimstone. Having no knowledge of her heritage, how Brimstone came to adopt her, or anything else - because he refuses to tell - she lives in the human world by herself, but also works for Brimstone. Brimstone deals in TEETH and WISHES. Karou doesn't really know what he does; but she collects teeth for Brimstone and accepts wishes from him whenever he is willing to give them out.

Boldface-Panda sez: 

I was really into this book. Was. As in I stopped. Because it didn’t work out between us. I will explain why.

This book started off weird and abrupt – kinda like a cheesy pickup line. But I kept on reading. I flirted with it. I was excited to read it. It made me all giggly and warm inside. [Insert the stomach-butterflies reference from the book here]. It’s rare I ever get so excited about a book. I wanted more. But in the end it was shallow and not spousal material. Though, it was a nice little fling: 

Though the subject was cliché, I’d never actually read about an art student before – always another bookworm (bookworms write about bookworms, you see. It’s only easy). Despite that the main character, Karou, had the stereotypical artist tattoos and blue hair – all toooooo cliché (but then again what art student isn’t?) – I was willing to give her a chance. 

Too many “magical” elements were foreshadowed in first chapter. It was information overload. Yay for jumping right into the story, but I was overwhelmed by what the reader’s supposed to pick up on. For example: the chimerical BEINGS and their NAMES and VOCATIONS, the strange TATOOS and the African bead-WISHES, the normal human FRIENDSHIPS Karou's involved in.

I had to refer back to the first part later on because it got confusing. But, I was able to look past that because the story was fun and, all things considered, undemanding. It was so freaking entertaining!

By chapter four I was rolling my eyes at the VERBOSE and SMARTY-PANTS knowledge of Prague art/architecture/setting the author not only knew about but called upon. She uses “Rococo,” “Baroque,” and “Gothic” all in one paragraph. There were probably no vocab words left in the humanities dictionary. This (to me) was the equivalent of a New Yorker rambling on about Soho or coffee or the subway. I wanted to barf all over like I do Lena Dunham’s nepotism (but not Lena Dunham herself – love you gurl! ...Wow. What a passive-aggressive thing I just did. You make me hate myself). That’s what Taylor's “world-building” was to me. 

However (despite all of these pretentious faults), I was willing to overlook it. And I kept on reading. See, Taylor’s faults aren’t egregious. They weren't something I couldn’t swallow...Even though they had an aftertaste.

For example, I had never HEARD of Taylor before this book. I thought this was her first novel. I was willing to be nicer because I thought she was a cute pink-haired baby that needed love and support. When I later discovered that this WASN’T her first, I was a little embarrassed for her. BUT I kept on reading. Shamefully. 

Around page 100, however, Taylor introduces ideas about the Christian mythos and it’s around this point that the story starts to lose some of its magic – just a lil bit. IMO, she didn’t have to get into any of “that.” She didn’t HAVE to explain herself. I already believed. And I already had my mythos created that made sense of her world. She was kind of shoving her religion (or lack thereof) down my throat. It’d be like J.K. Rowling saying that witches and wizards are actually mortal descendants of some god and that’s where they get their magic from. Because then I’d have to believe in gods and not what I already believe. Writers shouldn't create such a narrow view because it not only limits my imagination but it limits their story’s affect. If it doesn’t need to be explained, then don’t. 

The angels in the story are built up and up and up and then, when demystified, were less fun. The main angel in the story falls for Karou too quickly. It was gross. It was too simple and too easy for Taylor to “do” it as she did. At this point, I was expecting more from her. Taylor’s novel ended up being like the rabbit in the RABBIT VS. TURTLE RACE - the one that made good progress at the beginning but lost to Mr. T who kept its natural pace. 

On page about 151 the story [small spoilers] says that Karou’s demon-chimera adoptive father left her a BUNCH of inheritance. So, she’s rich. But Taylor never really says how Karou found out that she was rich. Yes, I guess it’s possible she could have figured it out on her own but…If Brimstone had been hiding it from her and then Brimstone died (as well as her entire connection to the chimera world)… How would she ever find out?  DOES NOT COMPUTE.

I also didn’t like how the angels made it into mainstream news. I don’t like it when my fantasy doesn’t make sense with reality. I want there to be no proof that this book didn’t happen. And it didn’t. Because angels were never in the news or all over the internet. This makes the book illogical and therefore less likable. 

It was also around the angels-in-the-news part that I noticed the editing of the book became…less. I noticed not only typos but no content editing. It was like her editor(s) read the first half and saw that it was so good that they were like “Why bother with the rest of it? This half is good – the last half must be great too! Let’s just shove this onto shelves because we’re more interested in making money than promoting good stories. Nap time for us!”

Seriously, I would have been a better beta reader than what you got, girl. I’m offering my services. Fo free. 

…The whole “war” concept between the chimeras and angels got a little hard to believe/pity/not laugh at. Maybe if it hadn’t been a full-fledged war, I would have liked it. Maybe if chimeras and angels didn’t have their own WORLDS, I would have accepted it. But what started out as an urban fantasy became an epic fantasy – an epic fantasy that came close to needing a MOTHER-EFFING map. And me no gusta maps. 

The chimera-angel conflict could/should have been more like… “This small group of creatures over here can just hate this other small group of creatures that also live in our world alongside us but that we never notice.” THAT SORT OF UNCOMPLICATED THING.

I had already invested myself so much into one concept-setting (Prague) that I was a little pissed I had to leave it for the angel-chimera world(s) – WAS there more than one world even? I found it hard to tell. I was bored. And pissed. 

And then when Karou falls in love with Mr. Prettyfacewithwings I was growing grumpier. They haven’t spent more than 72 hours together and already want to BANG LIKE MONKIES. Or, excuse me, they just want to touch each other. A lot. 

But they never actually a-make-a the sexy sex. They only make goo-goo eyes at each other. It was little better then what I call Twilight…Which is abstinence porn. I mean, WHY THE HELL NOT make them have sex? The rest of the book has nudity and cursing and adult content (ME GUSTA) but SEX? No. No sex. If you’re going to be so instantaneously lustful WHY NOT? What’s the point of NOT doing it?!? It wouldn’t be any LESS likeable than how their love life actually plays out.

If you’re going to have all this mushy stuff in there then at LEAST let them have some fun. Only Karou’s [SPOILER] past self (Madrigal) and Akiva (the Angel) had some real romance. And THAT was just some dull flashback you already knew had happened.  

And can I just say that “reincarnation” was a cop-out? It was. I mean, fine. I’ll take it. But I saw it coming. (My backup guess was that Karou was actually Madrigal’s daughter and so that was how they weren’t going to “end up” together. Which they [SPOILER] don’t). 

Other than this, another negative thing is that there are no major plot twists. You see all of them coming. You see them building up. It’s not a shock when they happen. All the plotting leads exactly where you thought it would. The ending was just as average as the rest of it. And I had really realy REALLY  hoped this book was using its mediocrity as a clever disguise all along. But it wasn’t. That was its face. It was wearing no mask. 

Sad face. 

A COOL thing about this book, however, was that it was written in English but basically the characters are always speaking another language. Which is AWESOME. More books like this, please. (Books without the English entitlement, but without all the work of learning a new lang-lang). 

And, the dialogue is done SO well – I could hear the characters speaking in my head. They sounded so real. I think that's Taylor's strength. 

Also, as someone who has had 2 rounds of braces and retainers (for baby teeth AND grown-up teeth (I had some major sh*t going on)) I don’t think the premise of tooth-pulling is silly at all -- if you even thought that. Tooth pain is the worst pain. I’d rather be shot in the foot than go through that hell again. Breaking my arm was more fun. And easier to fix. 

Also, I saw Brimstone as a Mr. Carson (from Downton Abbey) character. Humph and stuff. 

Do I recommend this book? Heck yes I do. Read it. It’s been the most entertaining so far (ALL THANKS TO ME IT WAS ON MY LIST I’M A GOOD BOOK PICKER AHAHAHA!!!!). 

Will I read the next in the series? Nah. BUT, if the whole series was crammed into one volume like Karou’s and Akiva’s relationship was crammed then yeah. I would have kept on reading. 

Now, I leave you with three other things that bothered me but I would have excused *IF* the story had been better: 

1. Having a masquerade in the same book where a setting is PRAGUE. Of course you would.
2. Having names I cannot pronounce – Like “Karou” (And yet Brimstone is “Brimstone”).
3. Making angels and demons battle it out. If you ain’t going to go all Christian on us, it didn’t have to come to that.

So, this is a YA book. We all know what is expected of YA books these days: not much. Its point is to be entertaining, marginally witty, and to inspire a cult following.

In my opinion, Daughter of Smoke and Bone goes beyond that, because it is actually well written. Most authors these days simply can't write.Taylor CAN, and it lends strength to her work.

I for one love love LOVE angel vs demon plots - I've written a book with this plot myself, and if Panda had remembered this, she may not have ragged on the plot so much. Ouch. You cut me deep, Panda, real deep.

The things is, these angels aren't your typical angels, and the demons aren't your typical demons. The demons remind me of Ancient Egyptian gods - their bodies are pieced together out of animal and human parts. In and of itself this is pretty cool, but there is (to me) a major flaw in the design. We all know (hopefully) that a dog could never speak English, because it doesn't have the same vocal cords as we do. It is designed to bark, not speak. So how are all these different species of chimera supposed to speak the same language? A bird and jackal? Not likely. The angels are typical in the sense that they are beautiful, but different also because they are in no way angelic. The angels are warriors, fear inspiring, made of FIRE. Not the kind of angels you hope are standing watch over you at night. Please, no. (Except for the sexiness).

Though I agree with Panda that the beginning was rather weak, written in a different tone than the rest of the book, I did like that Taylor threw all the magic in our face all at once. She talked about it as if we already knew what it was, instead of spoon feeding us, and it hooked me. I wanted to know who the Wishmonger was, how the African trade beads function as low-grade wishes, why Karou's hair was BLUE... I didn't care so much that Karou (yes, the name sucks, like all the names in this book, because they are all over the place and lack a certain cohesiveness) seemed to be your typical YA fantasy hero, because like I said, Taylor - for better or for worse - meets the requirements for what a good YA book is. It's what the people want.

Much of this book is familiar and we have seen it in other works (or maybe I just FEEL like I have, because it reads so much like a modern fairy tale - a la Tythe by Holly Black ) but it feels fresh and intriguing because Taylor throws new, original elements into the mix. For example, the Wishmonger deals in teeth. It's his currency. I don't mind teeth that are contained in ones mouth, but teeth outside of a mouth are nasty. The tooth fairy is scary, and probably works for Brimstone herself. So the fact that Brimstone, whose gruff nature we learn to love through Karou, deals in something that strikes us as so unappetizing was really fascinating to me. I want to believe that Brimstone is a good guy, but his trade makes him feel corrupt, and it's refreshing that he isn't a one dimensional character like we often see in YA novels.

Prague is a city I hope to visit one day, so I was excited to see that the book was set there. I really appreciate when authors know a lot about the city they are writing about, so I for one liked the in-depth references to the architecture. No other book does it better than The Historian, but Daughter of Smoke and Bone can be the redheaded step child.

Taylor has a nack for writing conversation that can make you blush, laugh, or gasp, but she is also good at giving descriptions that make you feel as though you are watching a movie, and that is the best kind of book. One of my favorite scenes that had me laughing out loud is this one:

'She came straight to the table and stood facing Akiva. She was fierce, ready to scold, but when she saw him, really saw him, she faltered. her expression warred with itself - ferocity with awe - and awe won out. She cast a sidelong glance at Karou and said, in helpless amazement, "Oh, hell. Must. Mate. Immediately."' (page 236).

Still chuckling at that one... haha.

I understand why Panda would be put-off by Karou and Akiva's immediate attraction and their lack of...fulfillment. But I also understand its purpose, and I for one think it's a powerful tool. {SPOILER} Since Karou is really Akiva's former lover reborn, it would make sense that they have this instant, chemical, non-sensical reaction to each other. It's not just their smoking hot bodies that are dying to be together, it's their SOULS. But, Akiva and Karou are also mortal enemies by default, and logically they try to fight that attraction. Then, when it seems they can no longer fight it, truths are revealed, and now the two are enemies for more than inbred, default reasons. It becomes personal. So of course they aren't going to do the dirty. Read the sequel for that one! (And yes I will be reading it! Ahem.)

One major thing that I disliked was the moments following the return of Karou's memories of her past life. The writing changes to a dream like state, and you expect things to be revealed to you in a page or two, but no. It rambles on and on for what seems to be an eternity, and while the meat of it is interesting, the way it is presented is not.

The ending to this book is not a happy one, which is great. I hate happy endings. Of course it is a clever ploy to make you want to buy the next book, and it worked on me. Especially because I got all 418 pages of this book for a mere $9.99.

So, read the book. It's entertaining, it's sexy, it's well written. The flaws are forgivable.


  1. Haha!! Great review!! I agree with everything you said but(as you wrote) the flaws are forgiveable!

    Charlotte Black
    Bookworm Blogger

  2. Charlotte, have you read the second one? I am dying for a spare minute so I can read it :)