Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I wrote this book review on Goodreads a week ago, and forgot to put it up here. Well, it's finally here.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1)Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands", she speaks many languages - not all of them human - and her bright blue hairactually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I was recommended this book by a few people on Goodreads who enjoyed it, so I picked it up at the library. Now, I should say that three stars is not a bad thing. It means I liked it, but I wasn't entirely enthralled with it.

Warning. There will be spoilers. I mean SPOILERY spoilers. They are unmarked. Proceed with caution.

I'll start with the stuff I liked first.

My favorite thing out of the entire book was the world building. It was top notch. Laini Taylor took your standard Angels versus Demons plot and made it her own with an entirely different mythology all it's own.

The Seraph are a race of people so perfect looking they look artificial with wings made of fire feathers. The Chimera are tribes of beastly hybrids that have banned together under one cause. These two races are at war in Eretz. Eretz is essentially a mirror dimension to Earth, the world of the humans. Humans, Seraph, and Chimera are all given their own belief systems which represent each differently. I'd seen another member of a writing group I'm a part of complain about how most books don't have such varied beliefs about one thing, so it's nice to come across this, especially in a YA book.

My favorite part was the Chimera resurrection system. The idea of creating new bodies from teeth to put souls that have been collected in is awesome. I swear I nodded and said, "That's cool." And it's plot relevant without being a deus ex machina. Double bonus!

My second favorite thing is the characterization.

The main character is Karou, a seventeen year old art student who lives in Prague. She has blue hair and an entire collection of sketchbooks. What I like about Karou is that she isn't like the other YA heroines in books I've been reading lately. She doesn't brag about everything she can do without doing it. She doesn't constantly whine about her, me, and I. She can actually fight after years of training, and shows it. Yes, all of Karou's bad-assness is actually shown not just told. She's also not some Mary Sue with awesome magical powers that no one else has. There is actually a rhyme and reason to why she's special.

I also like her personality. She still comes across as being a teenager, but has a maturity to her. She's not entirely juvenile because the writer knows how to handle the character. Instead, she has a sense of experience while still retaining a type of innocence. She has sense. I didn't sit there and facepalm repeatedly because she kept engaging in standard issue YA heroine stupidity. It was seriously refreshing.

Then there is her relationship with her Chimera family. She actually treats them like family. She has her moments of rebellion, but Karou doesn't yell at them or hate on them for keeping things from her. While she wants to know, and pushes her luck occasionally, she still loves them. Take the scene where Brimstone (the Wishmonger) throws her out for finding the resurrection cathedral. Karou does't resent him or get all pissy about it. She gets worried because she fears she's been cut off from the family she loves. That is the true reaction of a child, not the typical mopey:

"Well then, I don't want to see you again either," she said to the closed door. Mary Sue scowled and stocked off. If that was her punishment for a single indiscretion, then she would never help the old sorcerer again. She didn't want to even look at him after he just threw her out into the cold without her coat and shoes. What if she got frost bite? Then he would learn.

Sound familiar? Yeah. None of that in this book. Thank the holy high heavens.

As for Brimstone and the rest of the Chimera. (Grins stupidly.) They're just so awesome. I love them a whole lot compared to the Seraph. The Seraph come across like winged jackasses, you know, like most angels in YA.

Her friend Zuzana, total hoot. She also comes across as being a friend. Both her and Karou are supportive of each other. You know, true friends. Again, after all the crappy friends and girl on girl hate I keep seeing in YA, it's nice to see a female relationship that isn't all, "She's prettier than me. I hope she burns on every level of Purgatory," or "He's hot. Who cares if he's got all the signs of an abusive boyfriend. I think you should go for it." I seriously loved this girl.

Now, first and foremost, this is a love story. That becomes pretty relevant towards the end. I just though I should throw that out there before I brought up the romantic interest.

The swoon worthy boy is Akiva. Akiva is a Seraph soldier. He's volunteered to mark the portals to Brimstone's shop and that is how he comes across Karou. He tries to kill her because she works for the Chimera, but doesn't because he's drawn to her. Now before you, dear reader, roll your eyes at another case of bottled insta-love, I'll say it isn't really. But I'll get to that in a moment.

Akiva isn't the creepy, stalker type that forces himself on our fair heroine. He's broody, and does follow her, but does it because he wants to talk to her. It's awkward for him because he reminds her of his lost love he saw executed, Madrigal. Akiva is actually kind of adorable about it. He's bashful and guilty because he knows he tried to kill Karou and has just done something terrible to her Chimera family. He knows he's bad news in the way that a soldier followed orders only to find out that he killed the family of the girl he loved. While he is guilty, it's the kind of guilt that evokes sympathy in the reader because you know he was a) literally lost in grief, b) following orders, and c) caught up in the propaganda of his people made all the worse by seeing the execution of Madrigal. Seriously, this guy has had it rough, but what is important is he doesn't use it as an excuse. He knows he did bad and doesn't blame Karou if she wants to punish him.

Giant spoiler: Karou is resurrected Madrigal. While I guessed it from the moment Akiva started making comparisons early in the book, and I was worried that it was the horrible lost-love-reincarnated plot, after Chimera resurrection was explained, it made sense. It's a part of the world building that is well developed, so it didn't make me groan or roll my eyes. Kudos, writer. Kudos.

Okay. Now I'm getting into the I-didn't-like-this territory. Some of these are personal, so cut me some slack.

First, let me explain something about myself. I have this huge pet peeve against writers telling the reader that their character is beautiful, and sadly the writer does this with Akiva. I get that Seraph are supposed to be aesthetically perfect looking with a rigid and well defined bone structure, and symmetrical features, and shapely lips, and mesmerizing eyes, and sculpted muscles, and Abercrombie tans, and Fabio hair, and on and on and on; but don't tell me he's beautiful. Why? Because people have different standards of beauty. This is problematic because the writer seems to understand that, yet in the chapter where she initially describes Akiva (p. 57-59) she basically says he's beautiful without another POV hanging around. I felt like she was dumping melted cheese all over the pages. Personally, I viewed him as someone who was a bit artificial looking like he had been carved and given life. Not necessarily ugly, but distant and cold. Unreachable even. I'll admit, later when she tells us about his shoulder, it helped humanize him along with the fact he's rocking a buzz cut. It's little details like that define the character.

Which brings me to another issue I have. I felt like the back end of the book (the final 1/4 where she flashes back to Madrigal) were written after she had matured a bit as a writer. That's probably not true, but they read that way. Allow me to explain. The first half of the book there are a few awkward sentence structures that are either jarring or ruin the momentum the writer is trying to sustain, and some POV shifts in the middle of text that I had to reread to understand what the writer was trying to do. She writes the book primarily from third person limited, but occasionally slips into omniscient. I found it problematic and confusing. I wish I had taken notes to show some concrete evidence, but I haven't, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt. I'm just mentioning it now because it pulled me out of the text and made it hard for me to get drawn back in.

After the portals are burned, I felt the middle of the book floundered a bit. I would put it down and dick around with my phone. That's another reason why it only got three stars, it couldn't always maintain my interest. I can only take cutesy love stuff for so long, but I know that's me. My husband's the romantic if that tells you anything.

That said, the writer does show that she knows her way around a sentence, but I felt like she would get caught up in a poetic thought and drag is on too long. She liked to inject extra thoughts via hyphen into the middle of sentences. She didn't just do this a few times, but almost ever other page. I respect the style, but the writer over did it just a bit.

So, to sum it all up, read this book if you're looking for well written characters and some unique, thorough world building. Karou is a YA heroine who is totally worth your time, unlike some other ones I can think of. No, really. Read this book to break the Mary Sue monotony. It's just what the doctor ordered.

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