Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone was written by Laini Taylor and first published in 2011. It forms the first part of a fantasy epic which follows Karou, a teenage girl in search of the meaning of her life. The novel is followed by its two sequels, Days of Blood and Starlight (2012) and Dreams of Gods and Monsters (2014).

Karou has always lived as part of two worlds. By day she lives as an art student in Prague but whenever Brimstone calls on her she must drop everything to rush to his assistance. To most, Brimstone and his friends would be called monsters – half human, half animal chimaera who reside in a place called Elsewhere and trade teeth for wishes – but for Karou they are the only family that she has ever known.

Yet Karou still feels alone. Although she has Brimstone and her art, a piece of her has always felt as though it is missing and she does not know what she can do to find it. Her life becomes more complicated as black handprints appear across the world, each marking a door to Elsewhere. Although Karou at first does not realise the significance of these marks, while on an errand in Marrakesh she comes into contact with the being who has left them.

Akiva is a seraphim and his race have been at war with the chimaera for centuries. When he first sees Karou, he views her as being his enemy and knows that it is his duty to destroy her. However, as he studies her, his resolve falters. There is something about her, something that sparks memories of a happier time in his life, and even if it makes him a traitor to his people he knows he needs to learn more about her. He may well hold the answers that Karou has always desired but, in the world of the chimaera, wishes always come at a terrible price…

Wow, where do I begin?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a truly stunning novel. It is breathtakingly written, wholly original and stunningly beautiful. Even the locations that Karou visits within the human world just seem to be steeped in magic. From the winding streets of Gothic Prague, in which one can find an art gallery once and never manage to locate it again, to the bustling and exotic markets of Marrakesh, the story is just a carnival of delights all lavishly described in such a way that the reader feels as though they are always walking at Karou’s side.

The fantastical descriptions of our world wonderfully compliment the glimpses that we get of Elsewhere and Eretz, the world where the chimaera and seraphim originate from. Although not a lot of the novel is set in Eretz, what we see of it is captivating – a world that is ravaged by constant warring but also full of wonder. My personal favourite scene is towards the end of the story, where a chimeara masquerade is described as a kind of sexualised dance in which chimeara with animal faces wear human masks and human-faced chimaera are made to look more like animals. This scene just buzzes with ethereal beauty and encapsulates everything I love about this story. It’s lavish and seductive and just left me longing for more.

The world building in this story is some of the best that I’ve ever seen. Much like Seraphina, it explains little to the reader and so some concepts initially feel daunting (it is quite far into the story before the use of Brimstone’s teeth and the origin of Karou’s tattoos are explained), but it is worth sticking with the novel as all is explained by the end. I particularly liked the fact that the story provided the reader with both Karou and Akiva’s point of view and so it was clear how the chimaera and seraphim both saw the other as the villains. This was especially clear when the reader learns of both races’s creation stories which each show the other as being inherently wicked. While the novel did push the reader in favour of the chimaera (Akiva aside, it was hard to get behind the ideology of the seraphim), the chimaera were not faultless and so it was clear that there was only shades of grey rather than a “good” race battling evil.

The overall message of the story is also something to be commended. A recurring theme within the tale tells of the importance of hope. Within Karou’s world, wishes come from pain. The teeth that people trade from them are often taken by force – through hunting wild animals or grave robbing or even the white slave trade. This severely diminishes their value as the people who “earned” the most powerful wishes did not do so by especially nice means (and often found themselves scuppered by hidden catches as one always must be careful what they wish for). Hope, on the other hand, is something that you make for yourself and so is more valuable. It’s not magic, it is a change made when you desire something so much that your force of will alone makes it possible. Hope for a better tomorrow is what moves the story forward, for good and ill, yet it is still lingers in even the darkest corners of the tale in its bleakest moments. As long as there is hope, there is a chance to find a peaceful end to the war and to save the chimaera people before the seraphim wipe them out.

The only small issue that I had with the plot was the pacing. While the story opened well, it felt like it was losing steam in the final quarter. Towards the end, the story dissolves into an extended flashback which fully explains how Akiva came to be the way he is. While this flashback fills in many blanks and is incredibly moving, it does seem a little heavy-handed as it lasts for a hundred pages, leading right up to the cliff-hanger ending. You’re probably all painfully aware of my hatred of cliff-hangers by now. This book is no exception because the novel really did break off abruptly and end on a very bleak note, leaving the story feeling more like a first episode than a complete work in its own right.

In terms of character, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is particularly strong. While I did not warm to Akiva immediately, his behaviour starts to make sense as more about his upbringing and past relationships comes to light. His actions seem fitting in the greater context of the story and although he does some things that are deeply unpleasant, I could still see why and empathise with his choices. The only thing I didn’t really like was his insta-love of Karou. I’m not really a romantic and stories of love at first sight just usually cause me to despair. I can’t really talk about Akiva and Karou’s relationship here without giving away some fairly major spoilers but it just felt far too convenient for me, despite the precedence given for it within the story.

The secondary cast are also incredible. I grew particularly attached to the staff of Elsewhere. There is just something wonderfully warming about how all of them interact, from the stern Brimstone to the motherly Issa. Despite their frightening appearances, the way that they all care for each other and Karou is incredibly human. The other secondary character of note is Karou’s only human friend, Zuzana. While she does not have much impact in the story, I love how much vibrancy her character has and how much emotional support she gives to Karou (even when she is left in the dark with regards to the nature her errands).

Yet Daughter of Smoke and Bone is Karou’s story and she is truly a wonderful protagonist. It’s hard to talk about her at length as her past is the core twist of the novel but she is one of the strongest and most sympathetic female leads that I have ever seen. Taylor understands clearly that a good female character does not need to be all about sass and breaking faces. While Karou is no weakling, most of her strength comes from deep within. Her ability to hope and dream when everything around her seems lost is incredibly uplifting and her positive attitude made it impossible to ever dislike her. I really can’t wait to move onto the next book, just to see what direction Karou’s journey takes now that she has discovered the mystery of her past.

To summarise, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an amazing novel – original, beautifully written and containing some incredibly strong characters. It is a powerful story, its mounting tragedy lightened only by the endless hope that things can only get better. While I did have a few gripes concerning its ending and Akiva’s convenient instant love for Karou, this novel absolutely blew me away and I would strongly recommend it to everyone.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. louiseg12
    Mar 15, 2015 @ 01:02:27

    Fabulous review for an amazing novel, Kim 🙂


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