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 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. (Goodreads)
Review by Kim Harris Thacker, writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk Host
I’m not normally a fan of supernatural/paranormal romance, but I am a big fan of Laini Taylor. So I dove into DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE expecting to enjoy it in spite of the first two sentences, which are as follows:
Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.
I’ll admit, I cringed just a bit when I first read that, but only because I had just finished walking the aisles of my local chain bookstore, which I hadn’t visited in a good while, and had been appalled by the plethora of brawny, winged men (most of whom appeared to favor tight jeans on their lower halves), heavily-tattooed girls (with red irises), and melodramatic, one-word titles (think angst, and you’ll come up with several dozen of the very titles I saw) in the young adult section.
But I quickly slapped the cringe from my face and kept reading, because I knew from past experience that what sounded like a common story line would end up being, in the hands of a master wordsmith like Laini Taylor, something utterly unique.
Laini is known for taking popular ideas and injecting them with what I fondly think of as “literary steroids.” Her collection of short stories, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, was touted as tales of supernatural love, written “in the style of Stephenie Meyer.” If you read and enjoyed the Twilight series, you’ll probably love LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES. And if you didn’t enjoy the Twilight books, take heart: I didn’t either—but I thought LIPS TOUCH rocked. Folks, it was a finalist for the National Book Award. None of the Twilight books can boast of that.
But let’s get back to the review at hand, shall we?
DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE is another example of Laini’s terrific writing. It merited this Kirkus (starred) review: “[A]long with writing in such heightened language that even casual banter often comes off as wildly funny, the author crafts a fierce heroine with bright-blue hair, tattoos, martial skills, a growing attachment to a preternaturally hunky but not entirely sane warrior and, in episodes to come, an army of killer angels to confront. Rarely—perhaps not since the author's own Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer (2007)—does a series kick off so deliciously.”
I think the word, delicious, perfectly describes DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. And what, you ask, is so “delicious” about this book? Well, in my opinion, it’s the setting (or settings, rather). Much like J.K. Rowling, Laini can take what, in the hands of a less-skilled writer, might be presented as a simple setting and imbue it with such vivid imagery that the setting lives in the reader’s mind. Here’s an example of a great, descriptive paragraph from the early pages of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE:
The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century—or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plasterwork and capped in roofs of uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.
Thanks to Laini, Prague is now on my list of Cities I Must Visit Really Soon. Eretz and Loramendi—the angels’ and chimaeras’ strongholds in DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE aren’t on my list, but that’s only because I’m not sure how I’d get there. I don’t know any chimaera or angels or fallen angels who can lead me to the hidden slit in the sky, and I’m certain Delta doesn’t fly to places with two moons.
This, my friends, is a complex story. It’s so complex, in fact, that it could very well have a prequel...but that would ruin the mystery of Karou’s identity (Karou is the main character). I’m fond of books featuring characters that are seeking to understand themselves—or get to know themselves at all. While Karou is mysterious, and I certainly didn’t feel like I knew her well until the end of the book, she is worth getting to know. Her story is amazing, but she is amazing, herself. Laini gave her such a loving personality (though she is also butt-kickingly fierce and quite hilarious to boot), I couldn’t help but want to stick with her through her trials, which were many, extraordinary, and super daunting.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy and compelling romantic adventure stories.
Market: Young Adult, Fantasy
Sensuality: moderate (There are some wonderful kisses, and there are a couple of referenced sex scenes that happen “off stage.” Other references to sex are present, but are glossed over—no details.)
Violence: moderate to explicit (The injuries/deaths happen to non-human creatures. While violence toward these creatures may not bother some readers, it may bother others).
Mature Themes: War, magic, possession of souls, debt, discovery of identity, prejudice...the list goes on. This is a richly wrought book that will leave you with loads to think about.