Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Occasionally, a book comes along that is so delightfully weird, magical, and heartbreaking that it leaves me staring at the last page, speechless long after I’ve finished… this is one of those books.

The novel follows seventeen-year old Karou, an art student studying in Prague, Czech Republic. She lives a life shrouded in mystery, with not even her closest friend knowing who she really is or where she comes from. Among her classmates, Karou is known as the enigmatic, blue haired girl who draws a specific array of chimeric creatures in her sketchbooks. But there’s one small twist – these creatures are real, and they’re the only family Karou has ever had. They include kind, maternal Issa, who is half serpent, half woman; “giraffe-necked” Twiga; parrot beaked Yasri, and, finally; Brimstone, a crocodile-lion-lizard-ram combination famously known as the “Wishmonger,” who grants wishes of increasing denominations to clients in return for teeth.

Despite having been raised in the small shop that Brimstone runs, Karou knows very little about the world her chimera family comes from, or the true purpose of the teeth Brimstone collects. That all changes when an excursion to Morocco for human teeth ends with Karou meeting the most beautiful, deadly creature she’s ever known – a “Seraph,” or angel – that leaves her, and her world, eternally changed.

The one chink in this amazingly creative and well-spun tale is, oddly enough, the romance. As soon as Karou and Akiva first lay eyes on each other, I know that they are meant to fall in love, and it annoys me. I’ve read so many fantasy and/or science fiction books lately that include star-crossed lovers as a subplot to the action, and most of those books did not do this well. Unless I’m reading a book that has romance clearly marked as its genre, I’m usually not fond of seeing it in fiction because the chemistry just isn’t there. I felt the same way for Daughter of Smoke and Bone; from the beginning the couple has the starry eyed, ‘omg-you-are-so-perfect-and-beautiful’ syndrome that means death to meaningful characterization. Akiva never becomes more than a pretty face for me because of this, and Karou loses the sarcastic bite that I’d come to love. Some conflict finally enters the relationship towards the end, but it’s not the kind of conflict that aids characters and makes romance more meaningful… It’s the tragic, hopeless kind that always kills the passion for me. Speaking of which, the book as a whole is very disheartening, a la Harry Potter.

I can enjoy sad novels – as I clearly have enjoyed this one – but reading too many in succession is probably bad for my health. The YA genre as a whole has taken a rather dark turn, and while I don’t mind it, someone really needs to recommend me a book about puppies or rainbows, or at the very least a novel where large amounts of people don’t die in a grisly fashion. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a gripping, wholly original story that takes the concept of angels, demons, and magic to a different plane entirely.

This book has two sequels: Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters. The final book in the trilogy will be released April 2014.

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