There was so much buzz about Laini Taylor‘s Daughter of Smoke and Bone that I really couldn’t avoid picking it up. All these reviews talked about it departing from norm for YA fantasy fiction, but really not much more, other than it will defy my expectations. As I read, I grew more and more irritated, because I saw this as anything but the normal Twilight-derived formula that is absolutely unsurprising–with a few exceptions. Let me tell you: I was wrong.
The summary from Goodreads:
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?
From this description, I was mildly curious, but as I said, it was the reviews that drew me in. Also, as I said, I was underwhelmed for much of it. What particularly drew my ire was the Edwardian nature of Akiva the angel (angels are, by the way, the new vampires). He is utterly broody and smouldery, with fiery eyes that gaze tormentedly after Karou with a longing that can only be satisfied by running his hands through her neon blue hair and lots of making out while she admires his wings and his rippling tawny muscles. She’s the only thing in the universe that can sate his unquenchable, undeserving desire. But, of course, she’s absolutely wrong for him. Therefore, he’s torn between what he should do and what he wants to do. Thus, he broods. A lot. He’s nearly a caricature of Edward Cullen. He even stalks Karou and watches her sleep, much like Edward. I can’t stand Akiva in any way–but I’m not sure I’m supposed to. Or at least not completely.
Whereas Akiva is Edward, Karou is anything but Bella. She can, first and foremost, kick his butt. And she does. A lot. She defies the bland passivity that is Bella Swan as she wields curved blades and fights Akiva quite often. Karou is witty, very smart, and in no way is she either a victim or a pawn. She is passionate (unfortunately, toward Akiva, in both good and bad ways), and she makes mistakes, but she is not utterly defined or led by her desires. And when it comes down to it, she must sort out her priorities and finds that she does the right–though potentially the more difficult–thing.
Laini Taylor weaves a beautiful tapestry of the winding streets of Prague, as well as the bustling market of Marrakesh, as well as other vistas. Her writing style is witty and exciting, infused with rich, vibrant imagery. She also utilizes non-chronological storytelling to great effect.
I was really irritated at first, because of the similarities to characters like Edward who do nothing but brood and stare longingly at their loved one whom they can never have. However, the ending really did it for me, taking what I expected and assumed and turning it upside-down. Taylor is, in fact, playing with those expected conventions of YA fantasy and doing very different things with them, and I appreciate that. Karou is an enthralling character who is more than she seems, and I’m intrigued to see what she’ll do next.
The title of the sequel was actually just announced this morning: Days of Blood & Starlight.