Sunday, 13 November 2011

84. "Daugther of Smoke and Bone" by Laini Taylor (Read-a-thon 2011)

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Page count: 422 pages
Date begun: October 23rd, 2011
Date finished: October 23rd, 2011

"Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."

These are the opening words of A Daughter of Smoke and Bone and from the various rave reviews I'd read from the book, I thought I had some idea what to expect from the book. I didn't. Yes, this book is paranormal fantasy, and it's certainly partly geared towards a young adult audience, but it absolutely isn't Twilight or The Vampire Diaries or Vampire Academy or Wicked Lovely or any number of other successful romantic fantasy novels for teens. It's so much more, and I'm not even sure I can do it justice in a review - but I'll try.

17-year-old Karou is an orphan, living in Prague and attending an art college. Her friends know that she's secretive, and exotic, with her bright blue hair and tattoos, and they enjoy the wonderful creatures she draws on her ever-present sketchpad and the fanciful stories she tells about the places she supposedly visits in her spare time. They don't know that all her stories are true. When not being an art student, Karou runs errands for Brimstone, the seemingly monstrous creature who raised her, together with a host of other chimaera, half humanoid, half beast beings who have always been there for her, but refuse to tell her where she's actually from. Brimstone trades teeth from humans and every sort of animal known to man for wishes that can grant pretty much anything if they're big enough, and Karou has been all over the globe (the magic door in Brimstone's shop can take her anywhere) fetching everything from elephant tusks to snake fangs for him.

Lately, when she's off on her errands, she's noticed burned handprints over the doorways she uses to get back to Brimstone. She also has an encounter with a beautiful, but terrible angel, who tries to kill her when he realizes that she works for Brimstone. Desperate to figure out what is going on, Karou tries to spy on Brimstone when he walks through another door in his chambers, and she discovers a whole other world, but before she really gets a chance to explore, Brimstone catches her and throws her out. Before she has time to go back and beg his forgiveness, one of the tiny creatures who works for him, ends up at her window, dying of burns. The doorway to Brimstone's is on fire, and Karou is cut off from the only family she has ever known. When she encounters Akiva, the vengeful angel again, she no longer knows what to think, but it seems he might hold the answers to who she really is, and what has happened to her loved ones.

There is a love story in A Daughter of Smoke and Bone, where mortal enemies are inexplicably drawn to one another, and the romance was enough to take my breath away. There is also masterful storytelling and Laini Taylor does an amazing job with the world building. It helps that Prague, the initial location for the book, is a magical place even before you introduce paranormal elements. This was the last book I read during my Read-a-thon, and you'd think I'd be tired after reading for most of a weekend, but I couldn't put the book down.

Karou is a wonderful protagonist, mysterious, independent, inquisitive, strong and brave, yet also clearly a 17-year-old, who's not always nice, but can use the small wishes she gets in Brimstone's shop for petty things, like giving a girl she's jealous of a constant mono-brow, or giving her ex-boyfriend an itch in a really inconvenient place while he's nude modelling. She also uses her wishes for silly, frivolous things like turning her hair permanently blue, or removing tattoos she got on impulse. She's searching for the truth about her origins, not really happy when Brimstone and his associates keep them from her. However, when she finally does discover the truth about who she is, and where she came from, she understands why they kept the truth from her.

I don't want to say much more about the plot, because there are several twists and turns that should be not be spoiled. Readers should be aware that the story is by no means complete, and it ends on a big and emotionally gutting cliff hanger, which when I first put the book down made me like parts of it less. However, nearly a month after finishing the book, I'm still thinking about it all the time, and wanting desperately to find out what happens next. So I'm just going to recommend the book to as many people as I know, making sure they also read the book, and can share the painful wait for the next installment with me.

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