Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Frankly, after the Twilight bomb, I have tried my best to steer clear of ‘Young Adult Fantasy,’ which has become another term for ‘Sappy Supernatural Hokum.’
Despite all the hype that surrounded Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I studiously avoided it, kept my eyes lowered, even though the blue and grey masked girl on the cover was beckoning.
Until one day…
So Taylor had written this post over at Figment.com about her ‘writing notebook’, the book in which she first discovered the seeds of what would grow to become her bestselling fantasy series.
My interest in the writing routines of authors, I lapped up the article, helpfully annotated with Instagrams of her notebook.
Prague. Wishbone. A blue-haired girl. Angels, and wait… what? Chimaeras?
My (insert cool book geek word for ‘spidey sense’ here) was piqued and I finally grabbed me a copy of the book to see what this was all about.
Okay, that wasn’t the right word.
I have always been a fantasy lover, but Taylor had given me a basic supernatural romance to love.
She paints the whole story with a gothic and romantic afterglow, a product of her witty yet lyrical style that captures the worlds in her book in their pure other-worldly beauty while at the same time, keeping it approachable enough for us to know we see what we see through Karou’s eyes.
The story itself is a love story first and an epic fantasy war after, and usually I would cry foul. But Daughter has simply dazzled me.
Dazzled me by the unique setting of the tale, in Prague, starting out slow and later adding on the detail like one of Karou’s sketches, yet constantly reminding the reader that there was more to this picture than meets the eye.
I also adored how Taylor took two widely written about topics; Romeo and Juliet, Angel and Demon and then turned it all on its head by including a plotline of Wishes and Teeth!
The only thing that peeved me was how beautiful everyone in the story seemed to be; Karou and Akiva, the angels and Karou’s human friends, everyone! Too much pretty! What of us regular looking folk?
Zuzana, Karou’s foul-tempered, ‘rabid fairy’ best friend is hands down my favourite character, while Akiva is not. But that’s just my natural aversion to pretty boys and no fault of the writer.
All in all, Daughter was a fantastic read, both entertaining and heart-breaking.
Laini Taylor is a really gifted writer with a deliciously wild imagination. Glad she could share it!
Dash Cooray, 9.5/10
When I arrived home one evening from work, I found something unusual waiting for me that the Postman had delivered earlier that day. Holding the blank postcard with a single black moustache printed on the front – I began to wonder if I had some sort of strange, hairy stalker. I then received two more of the postcards; one with a tooth on it and one with a feather later on that week. So with curiosity baiting me, I hunted down some information about the postcards on the internet and realised that they were a marketing campaign for a book I was about to receive.
To this day I’m not sure whether the marketing campaign was successful (judging by my confusion), but the book on the other hand definitely deserves to stand up in its own right.
Laini Taylor has written several young adult fantasy books, one of which was a National Book Awards finalist. Over the last few years she has captured and enthralled young imaginations with her otherworldly and eerie stories about love, magic, fairies and mythical adventures. Daughter of Smoke and Bone (to be released in September) is heralded by her publishers and reviewers as being her breakout book – and I have no doubt that this will happen for her.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story about young seventeen year-old Karou and the mysteries surrounding her complicated life in Prague. Half of her daily activities revolve around being a normal blue haired teen, falling into adolescent love, maintaining a relationship with her best friend Zuzana and attending an arts college to nourish her natural talent of willing something in her imagination into beautiful and lifelike sketches. The other half however is spent in a land of magic and monsters; the land of Elsewhere, where her guardians deal in the creation of wishes among other mysterious tasks. Karou’s tasks for her monstrous guardians take her all over the world (using Elsewhere doors as portals) as she seeks unusual objects that will presumably be used in the creation of wishes, namely teeth which apparently are the currency of Elsewhere as far as Karou knows. As her story progresses, it becomes apparent that someone or something is forcefully closing the portals to Elsewhere, has become very interested in Karou and is following her wherever she goes…
For starters, this is unlike any novel that I have ever read. Although Taylor uses some Y.A. fantasy conventions e.g. young impossibly beautiful girl, impossibly beautiful love interest, a complicated childhood, no real parents – only monsters and a magical land etc., she manages to transform everything into her own uniquely seductive language that both compels and thrills as the reader is swept into the world of Elsewhere.
Taylor introduces her characters, a magical world, strange concepts and curious objects in such a way that they only appear unusual in a readers mind for a moment – and then are seamlessly blended together as the reader comes to accept the reality that they are presented with. Taylor uses very simple and to the point language as tools to convey her story, but every line as a complicated subtext that a reader is invited to discover.
The story is set in Prague, and although I enjoyed an exotic and beautiful setting and a lead character that wasn’t American or British – I felt a little like I was an outsider peeking in. I don’t think that this was anything to do with the culture change, but it could be with the character of Karou herself. As a woman gifted with wishes, she is able to fit in anywhere and has an unlimited repertoire of languages that can be instantly learned (I really wish I could do that!) and can find a portal to her true home in Elsewhere – I felt as though hardly anything was anchoring her to a specific place, making me unable to completely connect to her emotionally.
The other problem I had with the setting was the American subtext in everything Karou did, said and thought about. American slang and products (e.g. I doubt whether those in Prague would use ‘Tylenol’ over there) are littered throughout this book and adds to the feeling of being up in the air. I understand what Taylor was trying to do for her younger viewers to make the story seem more familiar with Western terminology, but for me it was a little like seeing two cultures forced together where they shouldn’t be, resulting in an uncomfortable atmosphere where the setting was a bit muddled.
The world of Elsewhere didn’t have this problem though, as Taylor intended it to be where Karou felt at peace in her own home. The chimera creatures that Karou knows as her family and the relative absurdity of teeth as currency, magical wish beads and angel feathers shouldn’t really come together – but weirdly do rather splendidly – as if Karou herself wished it with her beads. The different atmosphere between the human world and the monster world was immediately apparent and by page 54 I did feel as though I had stepped through the door into another world.
Karou herself however was written beautifully. She emotionally fit into a stereotype of her own and was a unique character for me to read and enjoy. She was essentially a breath of fresh air to follow, as was the concept of undying love that was believable and desirable in a demented and macabre world. She is sensitive and vulnerable, and yet strong in her morals and convictions. She is quite childlike in her aspirations, but is refreshingly un-hardened and good natured after a life of learning to fight compared to other heroines.
The whole feel of the book reminded me of the work of Guillermo Del Toro in his Hellboy films. His un-ending imagination when it comes to a monstrous underworld and the creatures that reside in it are parallel to what Taylor has crafted in this novel. The wish shop that is run by Karou’s guardians Brimstone and Issa – creatures with human features in places but are mostly made up of creatures such as snakes and rams – reminded me of the marketplace in Hellboy: The Golden Army, while the vile creature gripping the back of Izil (an Elsewhere tooth trader) has a similarity to a character at the end of the original Hellboy where a bag of bones is clinging to his back and giving him directions. I’ve always admired Del Toro’s work and now Taylor’s world is essentially in the same imaginative league as far as I’m concerned.
The whole story feels like a fairy tale that a mother would read to her child at night, and I think this one paragraph sums it all up from page 185; ‘Prague entranced you. Lured you in, like the mythic fey who trick travellers into the forests until they’re lost beyond hope’. For me, the story seduced me in such a way that I was addicted to find out what happens next.
I also really enjoyed the pacing and the paragraph splitting throughout the story. I adore authors who set to resolve certain matters along the way to provide satisfaction, but can keep the main story going to sustain momentum – which is exactly what Taylor has done. The uniqueness of Taylor’s imagination gives a little something extra to her prose – and although the language is simple, the construction is tinkered to match Karou’s artistic nature and gives the reader a diverse experience.
Not all of the descriptions of an environment or scenarios are given at once in the beginning, as Taylor gives little descriptive titbits that are scattered throughout the story to keep readers caught up in that magical forest of her imagination. For example, Karou’s small apartment is not completely described until all of her senses are alive – when she is with her love interest later on in the story on page 206. It is almost as though we are seeing a picture unfold, instead of words on a page as Taylor gives us a snowball effect that increases with speed towards the end – further evidence of Taylor’s other passion as an artist. It is a gift to be able to tell a story that has ambiguity about what is good and what is evil and have it dripping from every chapter as well as creating a believable universe while our heroine must search for her place in that world and our one.
However, the bad side to a snowball effect is that the opening chapters are a little mundane. I also had the feeling that this story would mean different things to readers of different ages – and according to the lack of swearing and quite a bit of un-satisfied sexual tension and teen angst – I’d guess that Taylor has written this for 13 to 18 year olds.
I did however find the wish system enjoyable though, where Karou can pick a bead on her necklace, wish for something and (depending on the power of the wish) – she could have anything from ex boyfriends itching in unmentionable places to the power of flight without wings. You can’t help but imagine what you would wish for given half the chance.
Taylor’s story is an enchanting mix of contemporary gothic and old school fantasy, lovingly married together to create something that I don’t see too often – an author obviously in love with their work and the world that they have created. Throughout this novel, there is evidence of Taylor’s enthusiasm and admiration for the genre – almost like a proud parent wanting a child to go into the world to touch other people’s lives. It is quite a refreshing thing if you spot an author or a film-maker in love with the work they are producing and trying their hardest to make the completed result something to be proud of. Examples of which include Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, where his trademark and guidance is seen in every single shot, in the detailed natures of the settings and costumes, and in his dedication to make the films as close as the Tolkien novels as possible.
Taylor does something similar here and I know that as time passes and her popularity grows, her art will continue to show the same magical spark as the book I have just finished reading.
Hopefully the second chapter will build on ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’s solid foundations, and Taylor’s upcoming trilogy will continue to be one of the most intelligent, inventive and unique stories on the market today.
Penelope Glen, 7.8/10
It’s hard to begin the review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Liani Taylor really managed to write a captivating story. She uses proven concepts like angels and demons but rewrites and twists them in such a way as to provide a rich, magical, mysterious and alluring story. Really captivating at time.
A big plus for me was the storyline, its construction plotted with care. The beginning was pretty simplistic, with the introduction of the main protagonist Karou and her friend Zuzanna it reflected pretty well here one half of her life living in Prague, being a student and a girl. Not long thereafter you’re introduced to the other side of Karou’s life, featuring Brimstone’s shop, a more darker side, however I have not made up my mind which party is the better (seraphims or the chimaeras). I found that the story where the chimaeras in Brimstone shop and he himself made an appearance spoke more to my imagination, being located in Elsewhere which is only accessible through specific portals, the usage of the doors although maybe not that original was used in good way that in some scenes provide a laugh here and there. The whole setting of his shop together with the descriptions of Brimstone among others and yes, as the name implies the chimaeras are made up of different animals like in mythology, but what made it better was the WAY the chimaeras are made, just brilliant. The resonance throughout the book followed nicely by Taylor using specific terms and phrases or past occurrences but then she does follow through on the things she introduced and not just in a paragraph but sometimes dedicating whole chapters to it. This world building as you may call, for both the present day Prague, Elsewhere and the history of Karou and Avika, it was so rich it really made the story come to its full potential, so lively it produced a well polished book.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone features several more characters but next to Karou, a seraphim Avika also plays a big part from the beginning. I found that his character could have given more depth compared to Karou herself. Although he is not the main protagonist, his actions and choices were, for me, a bit to abrupt and all of a sudden given the background. His history in the end was unexpected and fitted well and I can find myself in his actions. However a bit more reasoning behind his actions especially why he all of a sudden “betrayed” his brother and sister for another cause could have been given more depth. Similarly for his whole character, his personality was sometimes a bit weak. I would have enjoyed him more if Avika was given a stronger voice instead of being more or less a push-over. On one hand his actions portray him as a warrior but on the other hand picture him in a playground and his balloon got stolen by a bully he would just stand there and cry. All in all he is not a bad character per se but more voice could bring Avika more to the front.
One thing that intrigued me the most were the teeth and and I caught myself at 4AM in the morning still reading to find out what the significance was for the teeth. And when it was finally revealed, wow, it was not something that I would have thought. It was a really nice and original use of teeth. Another part that was pretty interesting was that earlier on one of the chimaera of Brimstone’s shop I think it was Issa mentioned something about bat-wings and antlers in reference to Karou and later on when the story nears the end and the history of Karou is being revealed there was a scene which featured the bat-wing and antlers. And then the question really started to rise in my head with what if and how. But I was wrong… however what Taylor had in mind was even better than what I had pictured it to be. I was not disappointed but even more under the impression of what a great story-teller Taylor is. Just magical!
The combination in Daughter of Smoke and Bone of the seraphims, chimaeras and Karou herself, gives an vividly colourful story that features at the same time a tinge of darkness that really makes the story come to its full right. There is just one thing that I do hope to see again in the coming books and that is a revisit to Brimstone and Elsewhere, I found that the chimaeras are just so great to picture in your head if gives an eerie feeling but magical at the same time.
I’d like to thank Hodder for providing the review copy.
Jasper de Joode, 9.3/10
Collin from Bristol (UK)
I am an avid reader of fantasy, from Tolkien to Gemmel, from Robin Hobb to Gaverial Kay, from Patricia Kennealy to David Eddings. I say this not in an attempt to impress with how many books I have read but, as a demonstration of the range. In most books it is almost simple to see where an author has taken their inspiration, in much of the genre there is a common thread. Laini Taylor has created her own, I am sure there are those more knowledgeable than I who could show referance in what she has created to various folk tales and the like from around the world, the dialouge and language are couched in a way that attracts a certain audience (I am 55 mind you so it does appeal outside its target). I care not, for me she has crafted a unique tale. I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone at one sitting and am now desperate for the rest.
What did you think about Daughter of Smoke and Bone?
Submit your own reader review and award the book the rating you think it deserves.