Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I'd finished reading DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor about a week ago and only managed to find time to talk about it now.

Well, no. I actually have four group papers to complete by next week, but I'm sure I can sneak some time out to talk about what an amazing book I've just had the fortune to read.

I went searching for it in the library after reading the glowing reviews on Goodreads. Practically everyone gave it a four- or five-star review and cooed and gushed and raved about it, so I decided to give it a shot even though the book had an angel/demon premise. I tend to steer clear of such books after reading Becca Fitzpatrick's HUSH, HUSH, which was like TWILIGHT with angels (and that's the most polite way I can think of describing it) and Lauren Kate's FALLEN. Books with angels and demons almost invariably (at least, in my experience) sing the same tune, about a fallen angel and a mortal who share a transcendent love and there's always another angel to stand between said lovers by telling them it's wrong and that's supposed to be the whole appeal of the story. Forbidden love.

In the case of DAUGHTER, while the lovers do share a transcendent love that is also - what do you know! - forbidden, the premise is surprisingly refreshing. The angels and demons are from Greek mythology, and Laini's knack for world-building means the readers get to immerse in the Eretz (a parallel Earth that the angels and demons resided in before the demons destroyed everything to get back their land, which the angels had invaded). The history between the angels (called the seraphim) and demons (called chimaera) affects the main character, Karou, an art student in present-day Prague, who knows her life is strange - she has an ox-headed man for a father, a snake-bodied woman as a mother, and she runs errands for the ox-headed Brimstone, which involves meeting teeth-collectors from all over the world and exchanging them for wishes - but does not know why. The readers are placed in Karou's perspective, so we have no idea what's going on, but it's all so darn intriguing we just have to read on.

I'm not going to summarise the story here, because I don't think I can do it justice. Here's the professionally-written blurb instead:

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.

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?

The story is not just compelling because of its intricate plot and novel ideas like exchanging teeth for wishes and **SPOILER** using teeth to construct new vessels so that souls of those slain in the "otherworldly war" can be renewed (the word Taylor uses is "evanescence"), ensuring that the demon army will never suffer a fall in numbers.

No, plot is one thing. The story is laudable also because of how vividly Taylor paints her scenes with language. Although there were snatches of cliched phrases throughout the story, on the whole the writing is lovely without being too cloying or cumbersone, dramatic without edging into melodrama. Here's an example (this is Karou's flashback of her previous life):

She is a child.

She is flying. The air is thin and miserly to breathe, and the world lies so far below that even the moons, playing chase across the sky, are seen from above, like the shining crowns of children's heads.


She is in battle. Seraphim plummet from the sky, trailing fire.


She is in love. It is bright within her, like a swallowed star.

Why yes, I'm a sucker for imagery, how can you tell? This reminds me so much of ever-amazing, multitalented Maggie Stiefvater's writing, yet Taylor and Stiefvater's styles are vastly different in terms of plot and pacing.

Based on the excerpt, though, it's obvious Taylor isn't some amateur wannabe-writer who decided she'd jump on the angels/demons bandwagon and make a quick buck out of telling a contrived, run-of-the-mill story that tween girls gush about because they harbour some not-so-secret fantasy of finding true love just like that in the story. Taylor is confident in her prose, and delivers what needs to be delivered without tossing in some redundant phrase or word.

It is only in the last couple of chapters that we understand why Karou is called the daughter of smoke and bone. I don't know how else not to give away the plot other than keeping my mouth shut about it. Which, I know, sort of defeats the purpose of writing a book review.

I read DAUGHTER right after reading Maggie Stiefvater's THE SCORPIO RACES. There are just some days when creative input just keeps coming, and some days the delivery truck is waylaid. Right now, by Stiefvater's recommendation, I'm reading Steve Hamilton's THE LOCK ARTIST, which sort of reminds me of Holly Black's CURSEWORKER series. Two chapters in and I'm loving the voice so far, but the narrator has yet to reveal a quality that makes me warm to him, but I'm hopeful.

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