Monday, September 26, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Writing a review about a book I really loved is hard for me sometimes. I want to express, very clearly and precisely, just what made me love it so, and I want to convince the person reading the review that (s)he will love it too. I don’t want to appear as if I’m sucking up, but I also don’t want to be too restrained – how will the reader know how amazing the book is if I hold back?

And then there’s the problem of disagreements. If someone who read my review rushes out, gets the book, reads it, and doesn’t enjoy it, I’m a little bit crushed. Maybe that person will think my taste in fiction is too silly or juvenile or “girly,” or that what I see as beautiful writing is just overwriting. When I review a book I dislike and a person tells me that they, in fact, liked it a lot, I’m good with that. Different books for different readers. But it doesn’t work as well the other way around for me.

Anyway, all of that is to say that I loved Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone – loved it so much I knew when I read it in June it would be my favorite book of the year – and I hope you will too. But if you don’t, you can tell me, and I’ll try not to feel like you’re judging me.

I went into the book not knowing much about it at all, having chosen to read it based on my enjoyment of Taylor’s previous book Lips Touch: Three Times. The blurb on the ARC is not particularly descriptive. I’m glad it wasn’t – if I had known more about the plot, I may have chosen not to read it. I still believe the best way to go into the book is in ignorance, but if you want to know more, read on.

Folks, this is a paranormal romance. I’m going to be straight up about that. (Sidenote: The last paranormal romance I enjoyed I probably read as an actual teen.) But it’s a paranormal romance that deliberately eschews the traditions of the genre that is still so popular. It can’t be called a knock-off of anything else you’ve read, and trying to describe it as “a cross between Super Popular Book and Even More Popular Book” (as so many marketing teams do) doesn’t work. It doesn’t coast on the success of its forebears – it succeeds due to the quality of its writing, the careful development of its characters, and the richness of its setting.

In modern Prague, we are introduced to seventeen year old Karou. Karou has blue hair, studies art, and tries to get over her jerky ex-boyfriend (there’s a particularly funny line about this that made me laugh out loud in public). She has a good friend named Zuzana, also studying art at the same school, and seems to be doing well. But she has a secret – she’s an orphan raised from birth by four creatures called chimaera – strange-looking animal/human hybrids. The father figure among these creatures, Brimstone, sends Karou on errands to collect teeth (human and animal) for reasons he won’t reveal. Despite its oddness and subtle creepiness, Karou is mostly content with the situation, and she loves her strange little family.

While out on a teeth-collecting errand, Karou runs into Akiva, a beautiful angelic-looking creature who sees the tattoos on her hands – tattoos she’s had since birth – and promptly tries to kill her. (Later, Akiva will be Karou’s love interest. It works, I promise.) After making a narrow escape, Karou learns about a centuries-old war, still ongoing, between the demonic-looking chimaera and the universally beautiful angels. She becomes caught up in this war and learns more about her past and her part in the war than she could have dreamed.

There are so many ways Daughter of Smoke and Bone could have stumbled. The angel love interest is impossibly beautiful and initially tries to kill Karou – both elements that would have made me stamp a big imaginary “NO THANKS” on the book if I had learned about it from an outside source instead of by reading the book itself. Taylor could have taken the book down its predictable path, but her plotting decisions are always surprising. She could have stuck with the commonly-accepted angel/demon lore and only added a minor twist or two, as so many authors do, but she’s thrown it all out the window and created something entirely unique.

Once I started reading, there was no way I could stop. I cannot emphasize this fact enough: Taylor’s writing sucks you in. When people talk about a book being “captivating,” this is what they mean. In most books I read, the writing is merely serviceable. It’s sufficient to communicate the story and usually makes me care at least a little about the characters. Taylor’s writing makes that kind of writing look just plain bad. It’s beautiful, lush, detailed and descriptive, but never once brings the reader out of the story. All words are carefully chosen and transport the reader’s mind to this other place Taylor has created – whether that place is Prague, New York City, or the other-world where the angels and chimaera live. 

I hope I’ve done the book justice here, although I’m not sure that’s possible. Lovers of fantasy absolutely need to put this one at the top of their to-read pile. Casual readers of fantasy need to do so as well. And if you normally avoid fantasy but are a sucker for anything with really great writing, you should pick this one up too.

Review copy received from the publisher. Daughter of Smoke and Bone hits shelves September 27 (tomorrow!).

8 comments:

  1. Holy cow, you did better than well here. Wonderful, thoughtful review.

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  2. Hopefully people realize your review is your opinion. You can't make someone buy or like the book. I've heard good things about this book from others. I'm going to add it to my list.

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  3. A non-fantasy reader like myself can get SO EASILY swept away in this one. This is an example, as you say, of when the writing is the knock out. It's so rare to find a good story with exceptional writing to accompany, but Taylor has that skill.

    I'm pleased this book is getting the buzz it is. It deserves it. Easily an awards contender this year.

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  4. Awesome review. You are making my mouth water for this one. I have to get it soon -- it seems everyone that has read it, loves it! I enjoyed Lips Touch too, so that's a positive. Thanks.

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  5. Well on this one, I don't think you're alone in your appreciation! That said, I totally feel you on the bit about it being harder to write reviews for books I liked. With books I didn't, I find it's easier to pinpoint why as opposed to a mushy, gooey, glowy, lovey feeling!

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  6. I am only on page 60 but I already am with 100% on Laini's writing sucking you in. It is amazing. And you're right. Every word is precise and perfectly placed. I am smitten already and I normally avoid paranormal romance like the plague.

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  7. I love how a story that has the potential to flop (hot angel with near insta-love) totally rocked. Yeah for Laini's fabulous writing and ability to make this story un-put-down-able.

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  8. Oh, you did the book justice, trust me. And I haven't even read it. I WANT TO READ IT.

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