Monday, 3 October 2011

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

First published in Great Britain: 29th September, 2011
By: Hodder & Stoughton

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.

My review:
When a book gets as much love as Daughter of Smoke and Bone has, you can't help but wonder whether you will be the lone dissenting voice; the one person who didn't like it. However, I can honestly say that if there is such a book for me, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is not the one. Although I can objectively see that it's not flawless, my emotional, gut reaction is that...I loved it. Completely, wholeheartedly loved it.

From the very first page of this book, I felt like I was entranced. The writing is so lyrical, it's hypnotic and you feel yourself lulled into this extraordinary story. 

Karou is an art student in Prague. Beautiful and mysterious; she's not like other girls: She has blue hair that seems to grow straight 
out of her head that shade. She speaks obscure languages fluently. She disappears for days at a time and comes back with curious presents and curiouser scars. She has a sketchbook filled with drawings of fantastical, half-human/half-animal creatures called chimaera, and she can tell amazing tales about them that keep listeners spellbound.

Only these creatures and these tales aren't just products of her imagination - they're real. Unbeknown to her friends from our world, Karou has access to another. She was raised by the chimaera, in Brimstone's shop, where she watched him work magic and grant wishes in exchange for teeth. 

The description of the chimaera and Karou's life with them is so vivid and imaginative - on par with anything from Alice's Wonderland or Narnia. This is a darker and more dangerous fairy tale world than those and yet, I yearned to swap places with Karou, just so I could get to see what she sees. The magic of this book is in its creativity and its prose - there are so many images conjured by its words that just stay with me: Issa's snakes around the necks of visitors to the shop, Izil and his terrible punishment for wanting to know too much, Zuzana's marionette show, a feather burned into a woman's palm, animal faces wearing human masks at a ball. It reminded me of Pan's Labyrinth. It reminded me of Peter Pan. It reminded me of paintings and creation myths and performance art and my strangest dreams. I can't even guess at the amount of fan art this book is going to inspire; I'm tempted to pick up a pencil and try to get it all down myself.

Karou can go from Brimstone's shop to any country in the world simply by walking through the door. One day, she starts to notice a strange marking on the different entrances. It becomes clear that someone wants them destroyed and the reader meets Akiva: An angel who hates the chimaera and but finds himself inexplicably drawn to Karou. Karou must deal with her uncontrollable attraction to someone who is the sworn enemy of the only family she's ever known. I admit this is the part of the book that feels the most formulaic and for a while there, I wondered whether this great storyworld was going to decline into another clich├ęd, paranormal 'instalove' romance. I won't argue with anyone who says this part drags a bit. However, it's saved by two things: The strength of the writing (you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Akiva's words to Karou) and the revelation about Karou, where we finally find out the truth about her. And it is epic and amazing and so, so heartbreakingly sad. I bawled my eyes out.

I want to read this book again and try to trace its intricate pattern. It's so clever how it starts with Karou being a quasi-normal girl with boyfriend troubles and then slowly opens up and unravels to Karou as...well, I won't spoil it. But so much more than what she was.

I think you have to be the kind of person who is moved by art and poetry and music to love this book. If you prefer straightforward and realistic drama, there's nothing wrong with that, but
Daughter of Smoke and Bone probably isn't for you. However, if you want to be mesmerised and swept away into an incredible dreamworld, then open up the pages and let this book cast its spell on you.

Rating: 5 stars


  1. This book really is getting a ton of praise. I haven't read it yet, but I think the concept sounds fantastic. Great review!

  2. So much for trying to keep my TBR small and not going to the library anymore! You make this book sound incredible and I'm so curious now. Especially about what Karou really is. Great review :)

  3. fairypenguin - Thank you! I would encourage as many people to read this as possible, if only for the lovely writing, but if you like high fantasy, the concept will appeal to you, too.

    Lan - Thanks, Lan! You'll probably guess who Karou is at a point during the book, but it's the story behind it that is really amazing.


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