Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1
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.
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.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is the first book in a bestselling trilogy that… I have studiously been avoiding because I don’t usually get along well with bestselling books, except then I learned that it was supposed to have asexual representation in the shape of Liraz and… Yeah. Onto the TBR pile it went!
So! Let’s start with the asexual representation! Don’t count on it being in this particular book. Liraz is barely a factor in this first book. It’s all about Karou (understandably) and Akiva (which surprised me more than it should) as well as, in the latter third or so, a new character, Madrigal.
The story follows Karou as she balances her life in Prague with running errands for the chimaera Brimstone, who raised her and who has the ability to grand wishes. For a price. (It’s magic. There’s always a price, after all.) Karou is… pretty much what you’d expect from a female protagonist, really. She’s feisty, plucky, and tough. Though she’s also just the tiniest bit of petty, sometimes using the wishes Brimstone grants her to avenge slights. Though one of the first instances where we see her use them involve her using them to rid herself of Kaz, her ex-boyfriend who refuses to leave her alone. (This may be the first time I’ve read someone pursuing another character and it wasn’t presented as romantic. Then again since Kaz was clearly never intended to be Karou’s love interest…)
Anyway! Karou’s life is missing… something and she knows that Brimstone is keeping secrets from her. She’s never dared dream that the secrets he’s keeping involve a whole other world, however. But a whole other world it is, as Karou discovers when, on one errand, she’s attacked by an angel.
Soon after, things go from bad to worse and she loses her entire family. Cut off from the magical shop that Karou has called home all her life, she sets out to find her family and discover what happened to them. In between, she attempts to balance the search for her family with maintaining the one friend she’s managed to make and keep, and honestly Zuzanna is the best thing about this whole book. Tiny and fiercely protective of her friend, she does her best to understand the world that Karou is from and swept into.
It’s… a book that, once upon a time, I would have adored. The action is fast-paced, snappy and evocative. The romance is absolutely epic and the plot twist novel and intriguing. But I’ll be honest. The kind of instalove that this novel employs not once but twice just didn’t work for me and since a good half of the novel is about the power of (insta)love in some form or another that’s a good chunk of the book that doesn’t work.
I liked the worldbuilding, once we got to see the world Akiva hails from in more detail. I would have liked to have seen more in this book, but that’s what the other books are for as they explore Eretz in more detail. ^_^ I would also have liked to have had a stronger sense of Prague and the other cities that Karou visited here.
I just… I’ll admit that the opening didn’t grip me precisely because it didn’t go into that much detail about Prague and Karou’s relationship with/to the city, so perhaps I’m a little biased. I just never got any sense that the setting was important. It could’ve been set in Paris or London and I wouldn’t have noticed much difference. 🙁 Most of what kept me reading was that I’d seen it on asexual recommendations lists and knew that in one of the books we’d get to see the label used. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have finished at all. 🙁 While there’s a lot of action and mystery in the opening book, it’s no longer the kind of writing that holds my attention well and I’m painfully aware of the fact that the majority of my issues with this book is that I’m not the target audience. Add in that the instalove arc just… fell flat for me and yeah. It was a recipe for disappointment when the book itself is perfectly decent on its own. I can see why it became so popular and, as you’ll see, I did wound up enjoying it overall. I just know that, as a teen, I would have devoured it and adored it to pieces for the plot twists, the action and the worldbuilding. As an adult, I just wanted to go through it with a red pen and make the emotional arcs tighter, stronger, more visceral. And maybe just get rid of one of the instalove arcs altogether. Let it be earned for once. (I suspect most of it is down to the fact that the romance just didn’t work for me, actually, and it’s made me grumpy about everything.) But hey that’s just grumpy me.
In any case, as I’ve said, despite my issues, it’s actually an engaging and fun read that I’d be happy to recommend to people if it seemed like something they’d enjoy. And Zuzanna is totally worth it in any case. She’s awesome. Tiny and fierce and she has 100% absolutely no business getting involved with the chimaera and does so anyway because she’s a fantastic friend and magic is not going to stop her from being there for her friend. And it was just… I really liked the friendship between them. ^_^
I think I’ll get on much better with the next volumes because they’ll focus more on what did capture my interest in this book: the conflict between the chimaera and the seraphim, Karou’s role within that conflict, what happened to Brimstone, and the relationship between Avika and his siblings, Hazael and Liraz.
And yes I do intend to read on. It was decidedly underwhelming, but also intriguing. I’ve already asked a friend if I can borrow her copies sometime. ^_^ I liked the little glimpses we got of chimaera culture and I’m hopeful that we’ll get to see more of Avika’s culture as well. I’m also hopeful that we’ll learn more about Razgut and why he Fell because it sounded like there could be a fascinating new layer to the narrative there. Taylor’s already playing with readers’ ideas of what to expect from a narrative about angels and demons. (Actually, I think my favourite part was when we learned the creation myths of the chimaera and the seraphs, but I’m a sucker for stories-within-stories.)
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