Monday, June 1, 2015

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1) by Laini Taylor

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.

It did not end well.”

Karou is a young orphan who has been adopted by demons and lives in Prague.  Her days are spent in art school, interspersed with missions from her adopted demon father Brimstone to collect teeth.  These missions take her around the world using magical doors.  Brimstone is abrupt and distant in many ways and this troubles Karou, but she loves him none the less.  It hurts Karou to see the results of her teeth gathering missions because not all teeth come from dead bodies.  As a reward for her actions, Brimstone grants her the ability to make her minor wishes come true.  This is why blue hair naturally grows out of her head.

Even though Karou has her adopted family the chimera and her best friend Zuzana, much of the time she feels isolated.  Karou knows that Brimstone keeps secrets from her and she cannot share the little she knows with Zuzana, out of fear of not being believed and risking the only friendship she has managed to maintain.  There are two tattoos on her palms that she is constantly asked about and she has no answers, wondering if she has been born with them.

Enter Akivia - the angel who has lost his soul and humanity.  He is determined to bring an end to the chimera.  When handprints start appearing on all of the portal doors around the world, Karou quickly finds herself caught up in a war that she didn't even know what going on.  Karou must solve the mystery of who she is and try to find a way to save her adopted family.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone started off extremely strong. For seventeen, Karou proved to be a smart and capable protagonist.  She survived being shot by criminals in her teeth collection missions and absolutely refuses to be used as a tool by her ex boyfriend.  Karou is even inventive in her response to her ex cheating on her and trying to woo her back. At times, Karou has a strain of aloofness but that's quite normal for age.  For the most part I really enjoyed her.

Just like Karou, I desperately wanted to know the importance of the teeth that Brmstone collected. I had very much hoped that this is where the story would center but alas, it was not to be.  What started off as a great mystery to be solved, quickly turned into a Romeo & Juliet type love affair that I really could have done with out.  Instead of really getting to know each other, Karou and Akiva spend so much time waxing on about their love.   Akiva is the typical Y.A. male love interest: tortured.  Of course, it's Karou's love which teaches him how to hope again and makes him smile.  There is also the issue that Akiva actively stalks Karou and watches her sleep (yes, shades of Twilight)

Once Karou meets Akiva which I suppose is inevitable, all of her good sense goes out the window.  Why does she invite this angel who tried to kill her into her home?  Why does she introduce Akvia to her best friend in the world?  Yes, Karou has her doubts but the fact is that she still allows an intimacy to develop with someone who clearly is keeping secrets and has tried to kill her on at least one occasion.  The only reason I can fathom for this absolute breach of common sense is that Karou finds Akiva attractive.  How do I know this?  Well, for starters, I began to roll my eyes and struggle not to stop reading because of the copious descriptions of how beautiful Akiva is and Karou's desperation to capture his image.  Then there is Zuzana, who repeatedly chants that Karou needs to mate with him and childish comments about Akiva's seed.

I perhaps could have gone along with the shift to a more childlike tone if the book had not shifted altogether to give us the story of Madrigal.  Madrigal is of course beautiful and absolutely unaware of how beautiful she is.  Madrigal is a chimera, who for some unknown reason decides to save Akiva's life after finding him wounded on the battlefield. Given the fact that the angels enslaved the chimera and used their pain to create magic, it makes no sense to me why she would instantly feel moved to save Akiva.  He certainly wouldn't have been the first soldier that she has killed. It will be two years until Akiva and Madrigal meet again and in that time, they dream of each other.  Naturally, the impossible happens and a romance ensues based once again mutual attraction.  They spend one glorious month together before they are betrayed.  Taylor does manage to weave these two stories together but it felt like I was reading two books in one and by then I really wasn't very interested anymore.

There were quite a few female characters in Daughter of Smoke & Bone.  I particularly liked the relationship between Karou and Zuzana.  They clearly care for each other and when Karou finally reveals that all of the fantastical creatures she draws are real, and are her family, Zuzana not only believes Karou but stays by her side.  Zuzana is adamant that Karou cannot just take off on secret missions without telling her.  Unfortunately, when the story shifts, we lose this relationship. I was less impressed with Madrigal's relationship with her foster sister Chiro.  Naturally, Chiro is jealous because Madrigal is so beautiful and has a human aspect.  I have to say that I will never understand why Taylor decided to give these creatures who never really spend time on earth the desire to look human, instead of the animal breeds that they are.

There is only one character of colour in Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Izil collects teeth for Brimstone and when Karou first meets him, he is bright and engaging, often giving her small gifts.  Over time however, Izil is ruined by his wish to attain knowledge.  The result of that wish is Razgut, a fallen angel who rides Izil's back.  Izil's story is heartbreaking but is used as a morality lesson to teach that one must be careful what one wishes for because there is always a consequence. We don't get know Izil very well because he sacrifices himself for Karou.  I really could have done without that.

There are no LGBT characters whatsoever.  This is particularly problematic because this story ends up becoming about this epic love with lines like, “Your soul sings to mine. My soul is yours, and it always will be, in any world. No matter what happens. I need you to remember that I love you.” The absence of LGBT people in this setting makes heterosexual romance the epitome of love.

Y.A. is never really my first choice to read but I picked up Daughter of Smoke & Bone because of a very strong recommendation.  I started off really liking the world that Taylor had created and was honestly relieved that it wasn't at first filled with the over drawn epic romance that fills must Y.A. novels.  If Daughter of Smoke & Bone had stayed that way and instead fixated on the mystery of teeth, I would have loved it.  In the end, I felt like I was tricked into reading the typical Y.A. romance which absolutely wasted the epic world building. I figured out Karou's big identity long before the big reveal and was disappointed that it was used to up the ante in the trotured love between her and Akvia.  It felt like the story completely changed and I struggled to hold onto what I liked about the opening chapters.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone also ended on a massive cliffhanger with no closure whatsoever.  I really feel that this is a huge disservice given that the book is 418 pages long.  After following this story for that length, readers deserved something more.  I could have dealt better with an open ended finish.  If anything, this lack of closure sends the message that even Taylor has some doubts in her own story. Why else would she use a cheap hook to get readers to read the second novel in this trilogy?

There were parts of Daughter of Smoke & Bone that I really enjoyed but the bait and switch to the high drama romance really threw me off.  To be honest, I am really ambivalent about the book at this point. I cannot necessarily say that the good out weighed the bad or vice versa.  To that end, I am going to give it a neutral rating and simply state that your mileage will vary.  How you feel about this book will very much be based on how well you handle the abrupt switch to romance and the loss of the mystery.