Friday, June 19, 2015

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #2) by Laini Taylor

All of her life Karou wanted to know why Brimstone made her collect teeth and as with many things in life, the answer is so much more than she is prepared for.  Facing the genocide of her people, the Chimera, Karou is racked with guilt for having not only dared to love an angel but to dream of a new world.  She must now reconcile what her people think of as her betrayal, her guilt and the love she cannot stop feeling for Akiva.

Akiva knows what he has done cannot be undone and yet he dares to hope that Karou/ Madrigal's existence will mean that somehow their naive dream will bear beautiful fruit.  To the seraphim, Akiva is not simply the weapon of his father and uncle's blood lust for war and power.  The lines on his hands indicate each kill in battle and the toll ways heavily on him.  Somehow, he must make a difference, somehow he must atone.

Karou and Akiva aren't united in their struggle thanks to all that has passed between them but they cannot help but love each other from afar and dream that one day their people will find peace, even if it doesn't end in happiness for them.

Days of Blood & Starlight has a very different tone than the first book in the series, Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Where Daughter of Smoke and Bone has moments of lightness, very little of that feeling finds its way into the pages of Days of Blood & Starlight.  It seeks to ask harder questions like what survival looks like. Is there a true objective to war, or is it simply the amassing of power? Is there a point where vengeance becomes futile? Are the children of our enemies deserving of death simply for the potential that they might one day grow and wield a sword?  Interspersed with these larger questions, the tragic romance between Akiva and Karou/Madrigal plays in the background.

Both Akiva and Karou/Madrigal feel the weight of the war between them.  No matter the torture Akiva suffered at the hands of the Chimera, participating in genocide is never acceptable.  At this point, I don't really see how these two can have a happy ending. Yes, Karou/Madrigal still loves Akiva but how can she possibly have a HEA with the person who is directly responsible for the slaughter and near extermination of her people?  I am not even sure I can accept that Karou/Madrigal is still drawn to Akivia and the determination on Taylor's part to seemingly paint him as good particularly when juxtaposed to Thiago. 

Zuzana and her boyfriend Mik make an appearance after hunting down Karou/ Madrigal. using clues in an email she sends Zuzana.  I love that Zuzana is such a devoted friend and will stop at nothing to make sure that her best friend is safe, though Karou/Madrigal's life and culture are completely alien to her.  Mik and Zuzana bring brief moments of lightness to the story but their addition felt like an interruption and absolutely unnecessary to the larger plot itself. It smacked of an almost desperation to bring a lightness to a story that is necessarily very dark.  Even though Zuzana is well aware of what the Chimera look like from Karou/Madrigal's drawings, her acceptance of the alien world she  wonders into seems far too easy for me.

Unfortunately, Zuzana isn't the only needless distraction in this story.  Sveva and Sarazal's story of capture and escape, adds absolutely nothing to the story.  The fact that the Chimera are not helping the innocent survivors to safety could easily have been revealed without this long and drawn out segue which ultimately lead absolutely nowhere.  I still don't understand why I am supposed to care about Sveva?  She seems to show up, tell us her POV, and then simply disappear never to be heard from again.

Days of Blood & Starlight seems filled with violence against women.  Jael is a rapist whose face Festival (Akiva's mother) scared in an attempt to avoid being raped and murdered.  Jael has a deep hatred of women and makes it clear that they are only to be used for his pleasure.  Even the mighty Liraz's bravado falters in his presence.  Joram, Jael's brother regularly rapes women and houses them away with no possibility of escape.  Joram, who is also Akiva's father and emperor, is blood thirsty and evil.  Joram  regularly rapes women, with absolutely no compunction.  The children that these rapes produce are seen as little more than cannon fodder because of their illegitimacy.

Perhaps the most troubling scene of violence against women is the rape of Karou/Madrigal by Thiago. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Thiago has Madrigal put to death for daring to love Akiva, instead of worshiping him, as all the other Chimera do. In Days of Blood & Starlight, Thiago seeks to bend Karou/Madrigal to his will, even as he isolates her from the remaining Chimera.  When Karou/Madrigal refuses to simply comply, Thiago attempts to rape her and is killed for his trouble.  It's a fitting ending for him but I have to wonder why this scene of sexual violence is even necessary, particularly given that there is never any doubt that Thiago is anything but the hero of his people.  Surely, Taylor could have arranged for Thiago's death without the sexual violence.

In terms of sexuality, with the exception of Liraz, who reads as asexual at this point, everyone seems to be heterosexual.  It's typical erasure in this genre but that doesn't make it anymore palatable, particularly given that Taylor's imagination lead her to create massive winged creatures and an alternate world with two moons. In the comment section of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I was informed that Akiva is a MOC; however, he still doesn't read that way to me, if that is indeed the case.  In terms of inclusion, Days of Blood & Starlight leaves a lot to be desired.

I am still not sold on this series.  I enjoyed Days of Blood & Starlight somewhat more than Daughter of Smoke and Bone but felt that the book at times is very overwritten. I found my eyes glazing over and at times, desperately wanting it to end.  I very much like that Akiva doesn't try to run away from the crimes that he has committed but I am still irked by Karou/Madrigal's attraction to him.  Akiva is just as monstrous as the other supposed bad guys in this series if you ask me.  Akiva may want peace now and have a sincere desire to atone for his sins, but I find it difficult to root for this mass murderer.  This series continues to be complex but something keeps holding me back from completely embracing it.