September 06, 2012

Thursday Review: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor

Reader Gut Reaction: Laini Taylor always creates such unique and fully realized worlds that manage to contain both darkness and whimsy in equal measure, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone does not disappoint in that regard. The story begins in modern-day Prague, with main character Karou, a mysterious blue-haired art student. Quickly, we learn that her life—not unlike her hair and her odd eye-shaped palm tattoos—is quite atypical. Behind the closed doors of a special portal, she is able to visit her mentor, Brimstone, and her adoptive family, including the snake-woman Issa and the parrot-headed Yasri.

Nope, definitely not your average art-school student, even if she does masquerade as one with her best friend Zuzana and her annoying ex-boyfriend Kaz. And her life's about to become even less normal. During one of her routine errands for Brimstone—who, by the way, sells wishes in exchange for TEETH, and just happens to have horns and a tail—she is attacked by a strange, powerful, beautiful, yet frightening man…with WINGS. As she tries to find out who he is and why he attacked her, it leads her on a journey into the heart of who she is and why she leads such an unusual double life. And the truth? Is much bigger and weirder and more wondrous—and more dangerous—than she ever expected.

Concerning Character: Karou is a fantastic main character. The author does an admirable job of maintaining the aura of mystery around her—even SHE doesn't know who she really is—while also making her a sympathetic character that readers can relate to. This is important in light of later developments in the story, when we do find out who she is. And with all the characters, as in Laini's other books, we are drawn in by their human qualities, their recognizable emotions and behaviors, regardless of whether they have, say, a parrot's head. I shouldn't be too surprised. After all, this is the author who escorted us into the worlds of fairies and jinns, of goblins and other strange creatures, making us believe in them as people. I love that about her writing.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Laini Taylor's other books, of course. Fantasy that combines both the dark and the ethereal, yet manages to keep everything very human and grounded—fans of Robin McKinley, Margo Lanagan, Kristin Cashore, and/or Kathleen Duey would probably enjoy this one, especially if you're into strong, self-sufficient female protagonists.

Themes & Things: The journey to finding out who we are—it can be fraught with unexpected twists and turns, and that's what I see as the main theme in this book. The meaning of family and friendship is a big deal in the story, too, as Karou's bond with Zuzana and with her adoptive family is tested and even strained the more she finds out about herself.

There is also, of course, plenty of hot forbidden supernatural romance in this one. Karou is drawn to the one man she really, really shouldn't be messing around with, and that gets her into ever more escalating trouble. My one quibble is that it felt somehow too quick, too easy, for Karou to fall in love, and equally too easy for her enemy to become her friend. I don't want to give too much away, but it would have been nice to see a bit more resistance, upping the stakes for both parties.

Authorial Asides: For a long time, we enjoyed reading Laini's blog Grow Wings, but for the past year and a half or so she's had a new blog address complete with lovely header art by her talented husband Jim DiBartolo, so go check it out! You can also drool over US and UK covers for the sequel, which is due out in November.

Review Copy Source: Library.

You can find Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

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