Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone takes place in a richly-imagined, layered, and lyrical universe -- an Elsewhere that exists along with ours -- that makes it difficult to put down. Karou, an art student in Prague, runs strange errands for her family, errands that take her to Paris, Saigon, San Francisco, Marrakesh in the blink of an eye, though there is much she doesn't know about her existence. I understand that that might sound like a tired cliche from the paranormal romance genre, but Daughter of Smoke and Bone was more than I expected. Here, I'll let the blurb do the talking:
There are many things to recommend about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, foremost of which is the gradual unfolding of the plot. Though there were twists and elements that are revealed towards the end of the book, I never felt that Ms Taylor had tacked them on superfluously. The novel is well-layered, ambitious, and successful as it takes the reader from one world and one thread of the story to another. The pace allows the narrative to gain much ground. What's also striking about the story is that it carries with it a commentary on war, prejudice, and tolerance. It does not allow the romance aspect to overpower the important themes that the novel contains.
Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.
It did not end well.
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 grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.
The setting also plays a significant role in perpetuating the fantasy. Most of the earthly activities take place in Prague, with its art schools and historic corners and grand cathedrals -- already a grand playground for the imagination -- so that when the tale moves to a different plane, the change is gradual and not shattering. Ms Taylor's other world comes with a colorful and diverse group of characters that evoke religious imagery without offending my Catholic sensibilities. I think the author was effective enough to use the angelic-demonic archetypes as a jump-off point to create her own characters of myth and legend to populate her world.
Karou herself is a great character: an admirably balanced mix of a heroine who is physically strong and more than capable of taking care of herself and one who has a great capacity for love. When I encounter characters such as this, I notice that one trait often precedes the other: as if love is a 'gentle' feeling that the female-warrior/tough-girl is required to shun at the beginning of the novel. In Karou, however, they exist at the same time, but I don't feel that this diminishes her strength as a character.
And the language! Some of my favorite lines:
'... clock towers across Prague started arguing midnight... (p56)'
'In her belly: a flutter of winged things shaking themselves fervently to life (p195).'
'It is bright within her, like a swallowed star (p311).'
I've used that 'arguing midnight' line on friends who have taken this book from me -- as I mentioned, I brought it everywhere -- and raised an eyebrow at the cover. Like I tell them, it is not every day that you come across a YA fantasy/romance like this. Daughter of Smoke and Bone appeals to readers who would want to be swept off their feet by an epic love story, as well as those eager for a secondary world with a rich mythos and history to accompany it.
My Advance Review Copy is courtesy of Hachette Book Group Philippines, through the kindness of Honey and Chachic. Much thanks!