Living in Japan, I don’t get the chance to wonder through a forest of English language books and discover hidden gems the way I used to. Looking for new reads online means I run the risk of being spoiled, a la Allegiant by Veronica Roth, so usually I begin a book now without a complete idea of what its going to be about. Case and point: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.
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, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.
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 was a real treat.The fact that it’s set predominantly in Prague means that both sides of Karou’s life seem pretty magical to the reader. I actually enjoyed the real-world setting even more than the fantastical one. Karou is a wonderful heroin who starts of being quite normal, with the sting of recent heartbreak and a best friend who takes her side as a best friend should. Soon the stranger parts of her life begin to unfold, including the fact that her blue hair is not dyed and she collects languages paid for with wishes (So jealous!) But we still see a fairly relatable girl, albeit one now transposed into a dusty shop filled with a family of chimaera and jars of teeth. By the end of this book, however, Karou has been swept so far from the life she knew – strange though it was – that I’m actually just as clueless as to what to expect from the next book as I was about this one.
Karou isn’t alone. All the characters, including the ‘bad’ ones, play their parts perfectly. Aside from Karou, the main focus of this first book is her beloved, Akiva. It’s only when the two characters meet that Karou is able to start piecing together a mystery bigger than her benefactor’s penchant for teeth. The mystery of who she is. The answer lies in a past steeped in blood and treachery, and a star-crossed love that may be the reason behind the emptiness she has always felt.
Like Karou, Akiva changes almost unrecognizably from his first appearance to his last. Unfortunately for me, to tell their story a large part of Daughter of Smoke and Bone was taken up by an epic flashback which I’m not a fan of, especially at this length.
On the whole though, it’s unusual to read such an unpredictable book. The star-crossed lovers theme may not be original but Laini Taylor has found a fresh way to dress it and the themes beyond that are pretty epic: good and evil, angels and demons. And yet this is not a world painted in black and white and things are not always as they seem. It’s rich and vibrant and brutal. Even the source of the magic which Karou has taken for granted her whole life is a surprise and lends further grit to our protagonist’s rapidly disintegrating world.
For keeping me guessing, for making me add Prague to my Bucket List and for honestly making me wonder what I’d look like with blue hair, I’m giving Daughter of Smoke and Bone 4.5/5.