Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1) by Laini Taylor
Published September 27th 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Around the world, black hand prints 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 grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly 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 beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery 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?
If I could pick one word to describe how I felt while and reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Disappointment. It’s the negative effects of hype all over again, when you go into a book after hearing so many amazing things about it (in this case, about how Daughter of Smoke and Bone was gut-wrenching and heart-breaking and emotional and powerful and kick-ass and amazing), and then after a few pages or chapters, you start to wonder if you were reading the same book as everyone else, and if maybe you set your expectations too high.
I loved the concept behind it all: the wishes, the teeth, the black handprints, and the exotic setting. And I won’t deny – Laini Taylor’s writing is gorgeous. It’s vivid and mesmerising and reads like a wonderful fairytale. Especially since I’m all for gorgeous, lyrical prose, at some points it’s easy to be swept up into her words.
I did wince a little when I opened the book and saw these two paragraphs (“Mondayness”? “Januaryness”?) on the very first page, though:
Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seemed like just another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its Januaryness. It was cold, and it was dark – in the dead of winter the sun didn’t rise until eight – but it was also lovely. The falling snow and the early hour conspired to paint Prague ghostly, like a tyntype photograph, all siver and haze.
On the riverfront thoroughfare, trams and buses roared past, grounding the day in the twenty-first century, but on the quieter lanes, the wintry peace might have hailed from another time. Snow and stone and ghostlight, Karou’s own footsteps and the feather of steam from her coffee mug, and she was alone and adrift in mundane thoughts: school, errands. The occasional cheek chew of bitterness when a pang of heartache intruded, as pangs of heartache will, but she pushed them aside, resolute, ready to be done with that.
And after a while, the army of commas get a little too much as well, although, seeing all the “ands” and commas I’ve been using in this review, I suppose I really shouldn’t be the one talking. Add that with the multiple pages (no joke) on how beautiful and talented and amazing Kaoru is, and, well… Needless to say, her writing was gorgeous, but it came with it’s flaws.
I mean, I get it. Karou’s an amazing person. She’s intelligent, mysterious, beautiful, and she can handle herself just fine. Plus she rocks blue hair, and let’s be honest, that’s pretty freaking cool. But I’d rather the author leave something like that for the reader to decide, rather than dedicating large, unnecessary chunks of text to gushing over Karou.
The first few chapters of Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the better half. The plot was intricate and complex with just the right amount of mystery to keep me reading. The story was following Karou’s teeth-gathering journey. It was really exciting. But then Akiva came in and, rather disappointingly, like many other books of the same genre, the story started tumbling downhill. Teeth and wishes are replaced with narratives on Akiva and Karou’s fascination for each other and their overpowering forbidden romance. At one point, Akiva even watches her sleep (he’s been taking lessons from Edward Cullen on romance, you see).
But probably the largest flaw I found with Daughter of Smoke and Bone was my inability to connect with the characters. Karou, in all her blue-haired, artisy, mysterious glory, was hard to connect with. Akiva appeared to me as a very textbook brooding, dark and handsome YA love interest. Karou’s ex was also pretty much the textbook player ex. I did like Zuzana, Karou’s boyfriend – and not just because we share the same vertically challenged problem – but she wasn’t present for most of the story. See, the problem with being unable to connect with any of the characters is that when things happen to them and problems arise, you read about it, and yeah it does induce some eyebrow-raising and/or uh-oh-ing, but you can’t really seem to – and I don’t mean to sound as terribly harsh as this is going to sound, but for the lack of better words – bring yourself to care all that much. As the events unfolded, I found the characters all seem to float further and further away, and when that cliffhanger ending came about?
“Oh.” <- that was pretty much my reaction. The characters were all too far away for my to emotionally invest myself in them, and so, to me, the story fell flat. I didn't feel as if Daughter of Smoke and Bone was heart-wrenching or a roller coaster of emotions at all. It was just… meh.
Also, somewhere along the way, the mysterious aura began to wear off, and we took the first turn into into the Land of Predictable Plot Twists. Examples include: Madrigal, Karou and Akiva’s attraction towards each other, and what happened to Brimstone, Issa, and the others.
So all in all, Daughter of Smoke and Bone wasn’t terrible, but still very disappointing. I definitely went in expecting a lot more than what I really got.