Monthly Archives: June 2015

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy – Laini Taylor

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love…

Holy effing cow. I love this trilogy. Well, I loved 99% of this trilogy, and that’s pretty good. Laini Taylor has created this behemoth of a story that just keeps on humming. I actually don’t know where to start.

WELL, if you’ve never even picked up one of these books, let me give you a brief window (it probably won’t be brief). We start with Karou, the mysterious girl with blue hair and a weird night-time occupation: she is an artist and a thief and she has a very strange adopted family. No, I need to go further back than that.

We start with Eretz, a world apart from ours but reachable through hidden portals. Eretz is at war with itself. The seraphim and the chimaera are determined to destroy each other, and though the seraphim have the numerical advantage, the chimaera have a seemingly immortal force. These species hate each other. They are all expected to kill on sight. So what happens if a seraph and a chimaera …don’t?

I honestly don’t know how to cover everything I want to say about these books. The prose flows and ebbs with the pace of the story. It breathes as you breathe, it gasps as you gasp. The style is somehow poetic and direct. It never feels pretentious but there are a lot of flourishes. It matches the feel of the world: there is Karou, eccentric, wild and vulnerable racing down the tough cobbled alleyways of Prague. There is hot sand and the hazy perfume of the Kasbah, there is the temple of Ellai in Loramendi the city of the chimaera. Brimstone’s workshop. All these places get woven together and yet all feel natural. The exotic real world settings like the Moroccan desert and the medieval charm of Prague help to segue into Eretz and the world of the chimaera without it being too jarring. For me, a little homebird in Scotland, anyway. It wouldn’t have been so seamless if the main action were set in New York, or Paris. Being able to incorporate different cultures and languages into the story helps to blend the real and the hyper-real. The magic and the mundane layer over each other. It’s a bit Indiana Jones (the good ones). They are also pretty hefty stages. The seraphim and the chimaera are not subtle creations. They need a bold canvas.

The characters that are created are so fragile and human. Karou and Akiva are so similar in some ways that it almost tears them apart forever. They feel envy and fear and make assumptions but are too proud to talk it out. They are almost brave enough… but then the fear comes back and they daren’t risk it. But they can’t stay away from each other. They circle closer and away… closer and closer and away… and hurt each other and love each other and hurt each other again. It never becomes melodramatic, but it is painful in places. If you’ve ever been in relationship limbo, you will relate to their situation, if not the context. In order to survive as species, they need each other and their followers need them. But they’re not supposed to love each other. Balancing their duties and their emotions makes for a bumpy ride.

On the other hand, I love the development of Mik and Zuzana’s romance. It might be a bit immature and fairytale, but we have to remember that Karou and Zuzana are seventeen at the start of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Karou gets the benefit of all Madrigal’s life experience, but Zuzana doesn’t. Mik and Zuze playing “prince and damsel” is so sweet and uncomplicated in comparison to Karou and Akiva. They’re still main players with their own agency; they don’t exist just to be a counterpoint, but it’s nice that in the background of this life-and-death chaos, there are two people who just fully and unapologetically adore each other.

As I said at the beginning, I love 99% of this trilogy. The slow unravelling of the war and the concepts of identity and self-agency are gripping, and the drama and danger – and romance – that accompany them fizz with intent and a desperation to squeeze everything from the experience. I was more than halfway through each book before I realised it. That has to be a good sign. I needed desperately to know what was going to happen. What was going to be the next trap or the next salvation or the next obstacle? A hundred more pages later…

The latter half of Dreams of Gods and Monsters is where it started to run out of steam, for me. The ending felt anti-climactic. It felt a bit lost. It’s not the way I would have done it. I don’t feel utterly betrayed and let down by the series; it’s an ending that works, but to me it isn’t the best ending. All of a sudden it ran out of pages. I got to the end without realising it was the end. I was expecting one more chapter. But it wasn’t there. It is definitely a five star read, and it will be re-read many times, and lent out and thrust upon people, and considered, but… *sigh* It was so close to perfection. The last few chapters just seemed a bit cobbled together. It’s hard, from such an intense timeframe, to cover the passage of time and come back a while later without it feeling that way, and the characters didn’t suddenly change motivation or anything. It just didn’t play out with the strength that I was expecting. I can’t explain more without spoiling 1800 pages of work.

I see that there is a film potentially in the works, and also that Laini Taylor is already working on a new series. I am very much looking forward to both.

Follow Laini Taylor on Twitter here.

Buy Daughter of Smoke and Bone from Amazon UK here.

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Currently reading: Dreams of Gods and Monsters – Laini Taylor

I’ve been reorganising the site a little. And a new tab up there at the top is a list of all the books I own that I’ve not yet read. I’m trying to get through some backlog before buying more. Ha. I already have my beady eyes on a few little things… So far, though, I have resisted. But my birthday is coming up… hint… hint? I’ll be crossing books off as I read them, and if I post reviews I’ll link them there. I won’t review all of them, but no doubt there will be some I can’t help blabbering about. I’ll try to do a ‘currently reading’ at the top of blog posts if I remember.

My current read will be getting a review. No question. I stared at the shelves when I got home from work last night and didn’t really feel like reading anything (gasp!) so it was sort of grudgingly that I picked up DOGAM. Don’t get me wrong, I was aching to read it, and it is surpassing my wildest dreams so far, but I just didn’t feel up to engaging with any text yesterday. I was two hundred pages in before I realised it had happened. So now I’m back at work and itching to get home because I want so much to do all the reading. All together now… #What a difference a day makes… Twenty-four little hours….

Otherwise, I’ve given myself a new deadline. Scary. I’m going on holiday with some girls from uni at the end of July, and I’m going to try to get the Once Bitten draft done, and a little tidied before I go. So they can read it. I’m not talking super-edited. But readable. They were there when it was begun. They’re in it (currently, but likely to face the chop as there’s too much beginning to the story) and they have been waiting six years to see how it ends. *shrug* So that’s a thing. Then I can get back to the slightly more grown-up projects. Like the steampunk vampire murder… um… or the sci-fi interdimensional bubbles thing… um… oh crap and the fey folk thing… *sigh* Get in line, already!

Finally, Katie Cross has been in touch that the ARCs for Mildred’s Resistance are starting to come through, so I’ll be hopping up and down by the letterbox in a couple of weeks waiting for that. And then the full third book The High Priest’s Daughter to follow in the autumn!! I am one lucky lady. If you don’t know why that’s exciting, take a look at Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and you’ll see what I mean.

And just to get you grooving, a bit of Wednesday on a Wednesday.

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Review – Eden Daire 1+2

The Garden of Good and Eden – Paulette Oakes

Getting Eden – Paulette Oakes

I read both available Eden Daire books one after the other, having found them through a random RT and thought the premise was interesting. I have to mention that there were a few typos in the books, though my review is on the content. There were only a few – maybe five or six over the two books – but I can’t not mention it, if I’m on the side of “as professional as you can get” for publishing.

Here’s the blurb for The Garden of Good and Eden:

Eden Daire has known her whole life that she was different than everyone else. Not just because she was adopted into a large Catholic family in rural Kentucky, but because she could do things that no one else could do. Things like make plants grow at will, communicate with animals, and even heal them when they were sick. No one seems to have any answers: not her family members, her mysterious best friend Amara, or even the hundreds of books she devours looking for clues. All that changes on the eve of her 25th birthday when her whole world comes crashing down around her to reveal secrets and creatures she had never known existed. And they all seem to think that she is the key to an ancient prophecy that will topple kingdoms. On top of all that, a different type of threat is looming over her beloved family and she’s the only one that can stop it in its tracks. How will she balance the love and commitment she feels to her adopted family and the new power and responsibility that comes with finally getting the answers to her past? Her world will never be the same again…

Right, then. On the whole I enjoyed these books, taken as they are. I didn’t really have to stretch my brain, but they were fun and the story was engaging. The pace was good and the over-arching story has so much potential that the two sub-stories that make up these books are given proper treatment and come to satisfactory conclusions. I wasn’t sure if these are YA or not, I don’t think so, and there is some (non-gratuitous) swearing.

The main premise is that there are three warring factions: Earth, Sky and Sea. Eden, the protagonist, is at the centre of this conflict. She lives in Kentucky, with a huge extended family (more on that later) and has always been different. She just didn’t know exactly how different until her 25th birthday. The author uses the Greek pantheon in the main part, with the addition of vampires (more on that later) fey/fairies and were-cougars. As the story progresses, the tension between the human world and the supernatural world builds nicely and Eden gets some good meaty decisions to make about her destiny.

There are some great characters in store if you pick up these books – Demetrius the satyr is cheesy and fun, but the joke of his stereotypical randiness doesn’t get old, and there’s some juicy backstory there that begs to be explored in future books. The brownies, Brother and Sister, also manage to avoid Jar Jar Binks territory and stay on the cute side of “creature sidekick”. Terra, Eden’s mother, comes across as a little cold, but it’s understandable given the situation she is in, and it’s good that Oakes doesn’t make her the traditional “Earth Mother”, soppy, tearful kind of woman.

The powers that Terra and Eden share are clearly defined and demonstrated, and are finite. This is a good decision on the part of the author, as too many of these sorts of books have a DESTINED ONE who is too ridiculously powerful. This also gives Eden’s powers room to grow as she matures and learns to control them. The relationship Eden has with Sheba, her dog, is very well done – part Lyra/Pan, part Dr Doolittle, and the traffic isn’t all one way; Sheba is pretty smart!

A lot of the style of these books reminds me of the Southern Vampire books by Charlaine Harris. Eden is very forthright, and doesn’t spend a lot of time agonising over how other people might react to what she says or does. She is a strong young woman, and acts decisively. She is one of the younger members of her sprawling family, and that’s where I struggled to keep up a little. Eden has so many relatives I just had to let it wash over me. The family is well-established with nicknames and all their spouses and children and businesses, but really apart from Aaron, Sue and Josey in the first book, and then Mac and Cheese and Pharaoh in the second, you don’t really need to be able to tell the others apart. By dint of being juuuust outside The South, the Daires avoid total hillbilly, huge redneck family status, but only just. Maybe that’s my cultural bias, as a Brit.

The main issue I had with her family is that they’re all just too easily accepting. Not even one cousin has a problem (and there are many cousins) with Eden’s powers and the danger they’re all put into because of it. I know they all grew up with her, and it’s all about acceptance, but really? There is some family conflict in Getting Eden with Starla and Pharaoh, which makes up for this a little. The other thing is that despite being twenty-four years old, successful or not, too many of the older family defer to her. Yes, she has magical greenfingers, but the Daire family have their own skills and ventures and intelligence. That Eden just assumes responsibility for sorting out the Tuckers and the protesting – and calling lawyers on the family’s behalf! – was a bit of a stretch, that again not even one older uncle or aunt had an issue with this girl wading in and saying she’s got it all under control.

The other big gripe I have with this series is the inclusion of vampires. There was already so much stuff to play with: all kinds of nymphs and dryads, satyrs, maenads, sirens, witches and the godheads themselves. I don’t think it needed vampires as well. Or fey and brownies either, if I’m being strict about it. Or dwarves and gnomes. But the vampires… I felt like the grandson in the Princess Bride, being tricked into reading a kissing book. Granted, the main vampire character, Patrick, is not a constant presence and the rest of the story chugs along nicely, but why not a dryad or a minotaur? Or an Amazon, since the author is happy to include homosexual relationships with side characters (hoorah for normalising non-hetero couples!). As Demetrius himself asks, in The Garden of Good and Eden, “always with the vampires! What is the big obsession with vampires and werewolves? Is it the fangs? The mystery and romanticism of the night?”

This comes up when Eden is learning about who and what she is, with Terra and Demetrius telling her that myths are partly true. So she’s sitting with a satyr and mother Earth, and she doesn’t ask about anything else from the Greek mythology, despite having that used as an example. By the satyr. Eden has read Greek myths. But she doesn’t ask about Hercules, or Mount Olympus, or the Percy Jackson books; she goes straight to vampires. It sort of jarred with the rest of the story. Like Oakes sort of wanted to write a vampire romance but tucked it away inside an already strong premise. As I said, though, Patrick is not around all the time and hopefully in the next book the vampires will be out of the picture.

I am interested to see where the story goes, and will be keeping an eye out for the next one. I want to see Amara develop, and more of the Storm Riders, and Boone getting more badass. There is such a lot to tease out with this world, and I think it will only go from strength to strength. The fight scenes are snappy, the main characters are established and the conflict is engaging and not too soapy.

You can follow Paulette Oakes on Twitter here.

The Garden of Good and Eden (Eden Daire 1) is available from Amazon UK here. For 99p! Worth a punt 🙂

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