31 January 2012

If Wishes Were Gavriels...We'd Visit the Dentist More Often

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 27, 2011)
Review by Laura Beutler

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a perfect blending of urban fantasy and fairy tale. Laini Taylor manages to take two subgenres (which have become a bit played out for me of late) and make something completely unique. I started hearing buzz about Daughter of Smoke and Bone months before its release, leading me to snatch up a copy despite my complete ignorance about the plot. I was not disappointed. In fact, I am now urging every library patron I see to check out Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It is a little bit of everything: complex, fantastic, beautiful, stark, and, quite frankly, one of the best novels of 2011.

Laini Taylor’s vivid, cinematic prose brought Karou’s home city of Prague to life so completely that I found reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone akin to watching--or living--a brilliantly-directed film. Within the first chapter, I was hooked. But really, if you can write as beautifully as Laini Taylor, you could get away with just writing a novel filled with descriptions of Prague’s streets, and I would sing its praises. Taylor goes beyond that, creating real, complex characters that lift themselves from the page and lodge in one’s imagination.

Giving a succinct summary of the plot of Daughter of Smoke and Bone has proven next to impossible. Taylor employs non-linear storytelling to great effect, jumping back and forth in time to give the reader a full grasp of Karou’s story and of the battle raging between the seraphim and the chimera. This wasn’t at all confusing, instead, it built suspense and drew me so deeply into Karou’s world that I sometimes felt my world was the imaginary one.

Here are the basics. Karou is an art student living in Prague. But she is also something much more. She works for Brimstone, who collects teeth and, in exchange, provides people with wishes. Wishes that come true. That's right. Give Brimstone teeth, he gives you wishes. Kinda gives going to the dentist a whole new meaning... In fact, wishes are used as currency, from the tiny scuppies Karou wears on a necklace to saucer-sized gold gavriels. Brimstone is a chimera, which is to say, he is made up of seemingly incongruous parts of various animals, blended seamlessly. Brimstone, along with fellow chimera Issa and Kishmish, make up the only family Karou has ever known. Then she meets up with Akiva, who is gorgeous in an extremely-deadly sort of way, and her loyalties are challenged in more ways than one.

Yes, that’s all you get. Spoilers...

Karou has all the qualities that make up a great female protagonist. She’s strong, brave, loyal, intelligent, and dedicated...but she’s also impulsive, at times fearful, and devastatingly curious. Her curiosity resonated most with me. As I craved further knowledge of the chimera world, so did Karou. And Karou isn’t invincible, which is fantastic. Too many fantasy novels have protagonists that can dodge bullets and survive unscathed through explosions and magical attacks and what-have-you. That isn’t Karou. She has to be very careful of the criminals she comes in contact with--and sometimes, careful isn’t good enough.

Easily my favorite parts of the book were in Taylor’s descriptions of people and places, such as the enormous puppet Karou’s friend Zuzana creates as an art project, or the streets of Marakesh. I found myself thinking, “This part would be PERFECT in a film, or an anime, like Howl’s Moving Castle!” And if I’m holding something up to Howl’s Moving Castle, you know it’s good. More than good, it’s worthy.

For a while, I lived the book, and it was all-consuming. I neglected my friends, my family, odd library patrons. I detested interruptions, like sleep. It really is fortunate that I read as quickly as I do, because a person does need to eat once and a while, something I forgot altogether while I read this book. And yes, it was worth it. I doubt I’m the only person affected this way. Seriously--try reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone without thinking over what wish you would choose if Brimstone offered you one. Go ahead. You won’t make it past the first twenty pages.

MY wish would be for the second book. Now. This instant. Too bad I don’t have any gavriels.


  1. This is a pretty perfect summation of what was also my favorite book from the past year. I agree with you completely about her writing, Laini Taylor is amazing. Maybe she traded her teeth to be such a brilliant writer. Hmmm...probably not, but one never knows. I handed this book to a patron the other day saying "You need to read this." She asked what it was about, to which I responded "well, that's not an easy question to answer." Thankfully she trusts my judgement. : )

    1. I have been handing the book off to one patron after another since I finished it. It is amazing.

  2. Hey Laura,
    So I really am going through and reading and making comments, not just because of the contest. I have been slacking in my MHLit reading and commentary and seeing as I may promote myself to MHLit cheerleader (for lack of a better word because 'cheerleader' kind of makes me cringe), I need to get on that. Lol.
    I read the first chapter in a sample and was also hooked. Unfortunately, I didn't get to get it yet. And since you compared it to Howls, then I def need to read this!

  3. I really enjoyed this book! I was confused in parts, but I was entranced by the world. Simply fantastic. I think I gave it a 4/5 on Goodreads. I can't wait for the sequel! Also, the author has pink hair and a daughter named Clementine, so clearly she's made of awesome.