Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Taylor Laini
Genre: YA, Paranormal Romance, Urban Romance


"Who are you?"  It's a question that haunts Karou.  Raised by the half-human, half-animal chimera, Karou spends her free moments after art school running through portals all over the world, gathering teeth in exchange for wishes. But her "normal" life is interrupted when a war between the chimera and the seraphim leaks into the human world.  Could an angel with fire-colored eyes hold the key to her identity?  And could a budding romance with her enemy cause her to lose her family forever?


Karou is a good heroine.  She appears tough, but is actually vulnerable and lonely.  Around her friends, she's funny yet insightful.  Around her enemies, she's devious and feisty.  She's unfailingly loyal to her family, in particular the teeth-collecting Brimstone, her father figure.  I loved Brimstone.  He is grave yet soulful and sacrifices much for Karou, though she doesn't realize it at first.  The family dynamic was weird, warm, and wonderful.

The book kicks off in Prague, an interesting world unto itself, where teenagers sketch nude models in school and eat goulash in a kitchen best known for poison.  Add in raven messengers, teeth hunters, and magic portals, and the setting pops in a whole new dimension.  The first 150 pages masterfully balances teenage drama, mystery, and action and jaunts forward at a brisk pace.

It begins to slow when the love story takes center stage.  Personally, I'm not a fan of love-at-first-sight, warring-families, Romeo-and-Juliet-esque romances, which might explain why I felt the story lagged.  I also didn't care much for Akiva, the love interest, who instantly snaps from battle-hardened soldier to wounded puppy.  His emotional baggage doesn't prevents him from being a perfectly-manner, self-sacrificing lover.

Three-fourths of the way through, the story shifts from present-day action in Prague to flashbacks that take place in Eretz, the world of the seraphim and chimera.  Though this plays an important role in explaining the mysteries, it does have the strange effect of forcing the reader to start a new story right as we're supposed to be barreling toward the climax.  In fact, one might argue that the revelation is the climax, since the story ends abruptly after the flashback concludes.

The epilogue promises a continuation of the story in later books.  Overall, I would say that Daughter of Smoke and Bone has a lot of good points, that make it well worth a read.  But a few troubling trends late in the story make me wonder if I want to continue with the story.

Rant (Spoilers)

First of all, I'd like to acknowledge the unfairness of these rants.  There are many things I like about the book, but do I rant about them? No.  Instead I pick on the elements I dislike in gruesome detail.  My apologies to the author.

Warning: Spoilers Abound

Initially I thought my major complaint was going to be the romance aspect of the book.  I have problems with love at first sight, problems with Akiva's character, problems with the long descriptions of how damn beautiful everyone is (especially Akiva).  But I do realize these things are largely a matter taste.  Should I be surprised that a paranormal romance contains copious amounts of, well, romance?

No, what really confused me was pacing issues. The first part of the book deals with the conflict between Karou's life in the human world and her secret life with her chimera family, as well as the overarching question of who she really is.  Then comes the twist--Karou is abruptly separated from her family, when Akiva and his siblings set fire to the portals that connect the human world to Eretz.  However, there's one door left they don't know about--one in the sky.  And Karou knows how to get there.

By page 150, she's ready to make her trip into Eretz, world of seraphim and chimera.  But first she goes home to say goodbye to her best friend, little knowing that Akiva has discovered the location of her apartment.  At this point, I braced myself for a romantic subplot.  I knew the story between Karou and Akiva would delay getting to the portal--but even I didn't guess how long that delay would be.

Actually, I wouldn't have minded if Akiva had done something to actively prevent her from going to Eretz--if he'd been an obstacle.  Instead, he loses all will to resist Karou.  He stalks her, she wounds him, and they go on a date.

By page 250, Akiva realizes he knows who Karou is.  But instead of telling her and/ or the readers, he gets into a confrontation with his siblings and starts having flashbacks about a deceased Chimera lover named Madrigal.  For 50 pages, Akiva angsts over Karou's identity without actually telling us who she is and why he's troubled.

Then he tells her and we get more flashbacks. For 100 pages.

Now, I happen to like these flashbacks.  The ones with Brimstone not only explain the mystery of the teeth but reveal how just awesome a person he is.  But however well-written, the flashbacks are still backstory.  For 100 pages, nothing happens to Karou and by the time the flashbacks end, the story is over.

Remember the portal in the sky--the one Karou was all set to pass through on page 150?  She finally goes back to it on page 418--in the epilogue.  That portal is significant to me.  It marks the point where the story arched like a boomerang back to its origin.  As the past grew in importance, the present slowed and slowed and finally froze to a single moment in time.

1 comment:

  1. I read very little YA, but I like your review of this one. Almost tempting me to buy it.