16 March 2012

Review 24: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

"In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought."

Despite have similarities to many popular books at the moment, Daughter of Smoke and Bone manages to be a really unique and unusual book. The brilliant heroine and break away from vampires and werewolves to more unfamiliar and imaginative characters and worlds makes this stand apart from its supernatural romance counterparts. Not necessarily an all time favourite, but a really solid, well written, and highly enjoyable read with a twist that I didn't work out for a satisfyingly long portion of the book.

First Line: 'Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day.'

At the centre of the story is Karou, who has always felt as those she is not whole. Now this feeling is dealt with in the novel in part through a romantic relationship but it is primarily to do with Karou herself and her past. Karou is a great heroine - she is genuinely independent minded, she lives by herself and goes to art school. She is able to stand up for herself without being abrasive, she values her friends and she is aware of other people and their needs. I really warmed to her and think that she is an excellent role model for teenage readers. Yes, sometimes she makes mistakes but when she does she is aware of them rather than blithely carrying on repeating the same errors over and over again. 

Karou lives and studies in Prague (the novel did really make me want to visit Prague) and is outwardly a normal student. However, she is called away on a moments notice to run errands for the chimera Brimstone. bristome and the other chimera who work for him are the only family that Karou has ever known and she does not know where she really came from or who her biological family are. Brimstone deals mysteriously in wishes and teeth and Karou is told nothing about what they are for. She has a vague feeling of unease about it all but knows nothing and is indebted to Brimstone for raising her. 

After a bit of scene setting, Karou notices that the doors around the world that all connect to Brimstones lair/office are being marked with black handprints, as if they had been burnt into the doors and that something is closing in on Brimstone. Karou also encounters Akiva, an angel who has been tasked with marking these doors. Now I don't think it is much of a spoiler to reveal that the angel and chimera have been at war with each for generations and also that there is a romance between Karou and Akiva. On the whole, Akiva is a well conceived tortured hero and I bought into their burgeoning relationship. Basically, Karou feels as though Akiva is essentially trustworthy and 'good' from the outset despite being raised by his mortal enemies, chimera. But she does defend herself and is very aware of the fact that he is trying to kill what is essentially her family and I appreciated that Taylor made Karou unsure about this dilemma rather than blindly following the shiny, handsome angel. I also appreciated some level of equality in their relationship - when Akiva is refusing to tell Karou what is going on or what he knows about her, Karou insists that if he cares for her then he needs to tell her and so he does. Rational, equal and respectful communication is unfortunately rather rare in the supernatural romance genre so big points for that. 

We also learn a lot of the history about the war between the angels and the chimera which I found fascinating and the world that Taylor has created is complex and detailed as well as fairly original. I don't want to give away too much about the rest of the story as whilst I was expecting something along the lines of what happened, the way it is brought about is not what I was expecting and a lot of clues laid earlier in the novel and brought together. There are also plot points that affect elements I have spoken about above but you will have to read it for yourself really. These novels are often written as a first person narrative and this is third person which worked for the most part and is necessary to be able to tell all the different stories that are woven together. 

This is a well crafted, largely original story that has an awesome heroine and an engrossing mythical history to get involved in. Whilst I didn't reach the end desperately frustrated that I couldn't read the next instalment immediately, I will definitely be having a read at some point when it is published. I didn't love it overwhelmingly, the way many readers seem to have reacted to it, but I really enjoyed it and would recommend it as a high quality entry in the supernatural romance genre.

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