“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”
Karou – all peacock blue hair and tattoos and ‘alternative’ dress sense – is an art student in Prague. Karou is also an errand-girl for a monster.
Thus begins Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the first in this trilogy from Laini Taylor. I can give a rough outline of what I enjoyed about this book without spoilers, and I’m gonna go ahead and do this one in list form.
- The atmosphere. From the streets of Prague to Brimstone’s workshop to the other place, the world is rich and vibrant, well-built and believable. The starting point of Karou in art school and weird little Prague bistros starts off an arty, old-world-in-the-new-world vibe that continues strongly through the course of the 3 books, and it’s delicious. This series conjures up a certain colour palette in my head – yes, that’s right, a colour palette – and I am here. for. it.
- The characters. We start off with Karou, her best friend, and Brimstone and build from there. They’re almost entirely consistently pretty well developed – though the exceptions, below the spoiler warning, are notable – and always, at the very least, fun.
- The world and wider characters. Though these books aren’t without their flaws, I cannot fault the vibrancy of the world Taylor has created nor the characters that populate them; they were believable and incredibly immersive even when fantastical.
All in, these books were entertaining page-turners and, though I’ve very picky when it comes to YA, they’re certainly some of the better I’ve read in that area and if you’re looking for an easy but complex, fun, page-turn-y fantasy then I would definitely recommend you give them a go. If you have or know a teenage girl who is into fantasy YA – well, actually, she’s probably already read these, but if she hasn’t – then I fully recommend these as a gift.
Okay guys, now for the flaws and more in-depth stuff. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Massive, stonking spoilers ahead.
I’ll start with things that I really liked about these books but that are too spoiler-y to go above the cut.
Ziri. Amazing, precious Ziri is what Akiva should have been (you’ve got a rant about Akiva coming up, just to warn you…). He’s strong, he’s a warrior, he’s entirely attractive, he’s sensitive, he’s pretty darn swell all round.
Equally, Brimstone is an incredible character and I’m gutted that he dies so early on in the series. I agree that is was necessary for reasons of plot and character progression, but it was too soon, guys. The flashback scenes didn’t make up for his absence, and I felt it through the rest of the books, which is probably makes it an even better artistic choice on behalf of Taylor because that’s what Karou is feeling too. But, still, no fair. (And don’t even get me started on poor little Kishmish. Weeping for days, over here. Hedwig flashbacks, y’know?)
The way that magic works in this world, with the pain tithes, is amazing. It’s well thought through and executed throughout. I love the fact that’s it’s rendered through ‘wishes’ – even the resurrections are a form of wish, really – and the fact that scuppies make such cool jewellery. The whole resurrection deal, and the hamsas, is incredibly cool and comes with a heaping side of aesthetic elements. The atmosphere and visual pull of this story, particularly the chimera aspects, are really something.
The plot is fast paced and I never got bored or wanted to stop reading. Even the deliberately unlikeable villain characters are fun. There is one, huge, glaring reason why these books are a 3-star rating and not a 4-star rating.
Are you ready?
Fucking Akiva, though. It’s like Edward Cullen’s had an angel-makeover, right down to the creepy watching-the-girl-you-like-sleeping thing. At first I suspected this was insta-love then, as the plot develops and you get the whole we-were-in-love-but-you-had-you-memory-wiped thing I was relieved that that didn’t seem to be the case, but then it turned out that it was insta-love, just at a previously forgotten time period long in the past.
I just… ugh. I can’t even.
I didn’t massively dislike him as we got to know him – after the initial trying-to-kill-Karou thing he’s kind and sweet and, though protective, believes Karou can fend for herself. He’s sensitive and is willing to fight for his friends and The Right Thing. His mates are pretty cool. There’s angst, which I always enjoy. But on the whole, just, no. Karou, you can do so much better babe. I’ll be shipping Karou/Ziri ‘til the day I die.
The love story between Karou and Akiva was supposed to form the backbone of the story, but quite frankly, I think the whole thing would have been stronger without it. Though the wishbone-memory-forgetting-Akiva / accessing-Madrigal-memories thing is a necessary part of building up to the war that is the main plot of books 2 and 3, honestly Karou should entirely have ended up with
Jacob Ziri instead of Edward Akiva. You’ll never persuade me otherwise.
Akiva-hatred aside, as I say, I still really enjoyed these books, and if the Akiva-stuff isn’t a deal-breaker for you then I’d still recommend you read them. The end.