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.