Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the darkly magical Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.
“A novel filled to the brim with wonder, wish-based magic, fantastic monsters and a terrible ancient war. Anyone whose ever wanted to read a fantasy that manages to be dark and wonderful at the same time, this is a series that must be read.” – Lord of the Night @ The Founding Fields
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a novel that I bought after reading some comparisons to the brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth, mainly that it had the same sense of dark fairy tail magic and wonder mixed with horror that made the film so good, and oh boy were they right. DoSaB is a novel that makes you want to believe in magic, in friendly monsters hidden behind ordinary looking doors, waiting to trade you magic for teeth and in beautiful blue-haired girls with eyes tattooed on their hands. It appeals to that part of you that can believe in fantasy and pulls you into a world where all those things are real, and where is so much more waiting to be discovered.
Karou is a normal girl. A normal girl with peacock-blue hair, eyes tattooed onto the palms of her hands and who just happens to work in a store with her family of magic-dealing monsters. And her job; collecting teeth from hunters, murderers and slavers all across the world for her adoptive father, the sorcerer Brimstone. Despite all that, and having a self-proclaimed “rabid fairy” for a best friend and a world-class jerk for an ex-boyfriend, she manages to maintain a fairly normal life-style filled with art-school classes, cafes with gas-masks on the walls and. Until the war comes, the war that Karou’s family has been trying to keep her out of all her life, and the truth about her existence that will forever alter two worlds.
The story in DoSaB is engaging right from the very start. Taylor starts with a simple line that you’ll remember throughout the entire book/series; “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” Right from that line I knew this was going to be a book that I would remember not only for it’s plot, characters and world, but also for the style of it’s prose. Focusing on the story though Taylor introduces things gradually, letting the characters establish themselves before going into the details of magic and monsters that dominate most of the novel. The first third of the novel is used for this purpose, letting the reader get a sense of most of the world’s features before plunging right into the main story and moving into a much larger-scale plot. I enjoyed many things about the story, the gradual reveal of things behind the scenes, the chapters and segments devoted to revelations about the past in the final third and that Taylor makes the story both a serious and light-hearted, whimsical and dark affair at the same time. I also found her writing to be very emotionally engaging, many times reading the book I got sucked in by what was happening or what a character was feeling, it made for very engrossing reading. You can tell that DoSaB is a series though as the story in the book is only a part of a wider story, I didn’t feel that this first novel was it’s own self-contained story that was still a part of a whole, but rather part one in a much larger adventure that would take multiple entries to finish. Three to be exact.
The characters are nothing short of amazing. Taylor makes realistic, engaging, sympathetic, funny, interesting and memorable characters, even her sideline characters stick in your mind for the life she infuses in them. Both Karou and Akiva, the protagonists, come off as very fascinating individuals, for the unique childhoods they both have, the goals they work towards and their relationship with each other that is one of the focusing points of the entire trilogy and one of my favorite parts of the trilogy period. Even scenes with just the two of them talking were engaging as hell and damn-near impossible to put down, the slow revelations that come about as a result of these two coming together and the epic adventure that begins once the truth is known. But not only them, many other characters come across as individuals who I would truly want to know more about, such as Brimstone whose appearances in the book are limited but his influence can be felt throughout the entire story and whose actions and motivations add a whole new level of depth to both aspects of the plot and to his character. Karou’s best friend Zuzana was one of my favorites because of her wonderfully imaginative/insane mindset, her thoughts and her ramblings seem like a doorway into an even stranger world where things just happen, make no sense and you could care less, plus her “rabid fairy” status made me laugh quite a bit. I also enjoyed the few scenes with the characters Liraz and Hazael, their appearances may be brief but they both make quite an impression and give you a wider glimpse of what the rest of their people could be like, and they are both a brilliant subversion of a well-known mythological idea.
The world building is engaging and wonderful fun. Teeth turned into wishes, monsters that look like animals mixed together, doorways into an alternate world where the stars are gods and where a war rages on with no signs of end in sight. Right from the start Taylor makes the rules of magic that the reader needs to know clear while keeping the rest a mystery for later, and reveals just enough of other things to keep the reader’s understanding but obscures enough that the mystery compels the reader to keep going, though the plot and/or characters alone would be enough. One thing that I really liked was that certain parts of the story go even further into the fully developed parts of Taylor’s world, the reason for that is a HUGE spoiler, and we not only get to see the really big stuff like magic and wars and different races, but we also get to see the small stuff like bits of language, cultural customs and the places and cities and wonders of a completely different world to ours. It’s that level of world-building that shows how dedicated to immersing you into not only the story but the world the story is set in that Taylor is, which is to say quite a good deal dedicated. Taylor’s world is one that can’t just be described, it has to be experienced, it has to be read for the full impact of the sense of wonder that you get from reading about the levels of wishes, the descriptions of Eretz and Loramendi, and the Chimaera that all feel distinct and fit into the idea of multiple races under one banner.
The prose of the book is very distinctive right from the start. The very first line of the book was when I suspected that this was going to be a book I remembered for it’s prose, not because of what the line said, but because it had it’s own separate page. When I saw that Chapter 7 was less than two pages long that belief was cemented. Taylor is not an author that puts exactly what is necessary into a chapter and doesn’t feel constrained by the need to fill some kind of expected word count. Not only the size and style of her chapters but also her choice of words, the way she writes certain events and the sometimes unique style of a particular segment make the book, and series as a whole, feel distinct and with no doubt as to who is writing these novels. Taylor also does beautiful descriptive work which adds to the world-building, every location, person and important object in the novel is given a great description that not only gives the reader a clear picture of who, what or where they are reading about looks like but also makes each and everyone of them feel like an individual, apart from species and siblings that look alike, each character is described as a unique person, each environment feels like another world and the important objects give off an air of being “otherworldly”.
My favourite quote, without a doubt it’s this one because it was an epic moment and was the moment when I knew that things were a lot more complicated than they appeared to be;
“Once upon a time, an angel lay dying in the mist. And a devil knelt over him and smiled.”
The ending was shocking to say the least, but in a good way at least for the reader, for the characters it’s another story. DoSaB ends on a very varied note; it’s sad, cruel, a punch to the gut, but also hopeful that this is just the beginning and that even though harsh things have happened, there is still the chance that things can be turned around. Taylor ends the story in a great place, the initial part of this story is over and now the protagonists have a whole new series of challenges ahead of them, ones that will be even harder to surmount than the ones in this book. DoSaB is really one part of a larger story and the ending reads like that, rather than close off a self-contained story it acts more as a cliffhanger in Act I of the series, while the audience must wait for Act II to begin. It’s a dynamite place to leave off on and it definitely had me wanting to read the second book as quickly as possible, though I waited a bit so that I wouldn’t have to wait very long to get to the third book which was just recently released.
For a fantastic story that had my full attention all the way through, characters that were wonderful to read about no matter what they were doing, and a world that felt like entering a place where magic was real and anything was possible, I give Daughter of Smoke and Bone a score of 8.6/10. Any fans of magical fantasy or dark fantasy, I would highly recommend that you read this book. It’s a great read from start to finish and one that I would personally suggest even to people who haven’t tried fantasy yet, this would be the novel that would get them hooked on it. It was a real fun time reading this book, and the books that follow were even better. But you’ll have to read those reviews to find out about them.
That’s it for this review. Thanks very much for reading, until next time;
AVE DOMINUS NOX!