Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor – Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the gripping sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. (Warning: Do not read this review unless you have read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, or you just don’t care about spoilers.)
“A sequel that maintains the original’s sense of wonder and magic, while also being a dark tale about war, broken love, betrayal and a search for a new way of life. A superb read all the way through.” – Lord of the Night @ The Founding Fields
Days of Blood and Starlight is a much darker and bloodier book than Daughter of Smoke and Bone was. Having established her characters, world and plot Taylor takes the story into the midst of the Chimaera-Seraphim war as a new stage in the thousand year old conflict begins, and yet through it all there is still that sense of wonder and laughter as some characters become much-needed uplifters, those who keep the novel from sliding into grimdark territory. This is a book that is strong on plot, character development, world-building and themes, and one that is a much darker middle section of the wider series plot.
The Chimaera-Seraphim war has entered a new stage. Loramendi has fallen, the Warlord and his resurrectionist Brimstone are dead and gone, and now the Chimaera’s only hope rests with the girl they murdered for daring to love the enemy. Karou, once Madrigal of the Kirin, is now the only resurrectionist left in the Chimaera ranks, and it is up to her to save the souls of the Chimaera and make sure that victory is achieved. But her idea of victory may not be the same as the White Wolf who is both her leader and her once-murderer. Meanwhile Akiva, bereft after his devastating revelation has rejoined the ranks of the Misbegotten, but when the war re-ignites it is up to Akiva to decide whether or not he wishes to be a weapon or a person, a choice that will affect the entire Seraphim Empire. The days of war are days of blood and if they are to ever end, a hope once shattered and broken by betrayal must be reborn.
The story in DoBaS is much darker than it’s predecessor, focusing more on the war and the now broken relationship between Akiva and Karou and how that relationship starts to present new possibilities for both sides. The story is split into those two key parts, Karou with the Chimaera and Akiva with the Seraphim, and how they are both working to change the war in their own ways. Both sides have their own themes which I greatly enjoyed; on the Chimaera side we have the idea of terror-war and how hatred makes people be willing to do things that are horrific and cruel, and about having hope that things can be different. And on the Seraphim side we have the idea of people who have been relegated to weapons, and how they can want more for themselves, to become more than just living weapons bred to fight and die in a never-ending war. Like DoSaB this book is a story where the characters drive events rather than being driven by them, and both stories pull you in for the different events, character development and surprises that not only affect themselves but affect the other story as well. Both Karou and Akiva’s separate plots change the course of the other’s a few times throughout the novel. I also enjoyed the increased chapters devoted to Zuzana who is likely the funniest character in the series and someone who brings a welcome touch of irreverence and child-like imagination to the plot, and helps keep the story from becoming overly dark. We also get some one-off chapters devoted to new characters that give us a wider look at the world beyond what the main characters are doing and hints at what is to come later in the series, which are quite tantalizing. And like it’s predecessor DoBaS is a very emotionally gripping story, I felt that it evoked a lot of feelings and sympathy when I read it, personally I think that is down to both Taylor’s prose and her characters being both relatable yet still otherworldly.
The characters in DoSaB are much more varied than the first novel. Whereas in that book the character roster was fairly limited to Karou, Akiva and those close to them, the second book has a much wider cast of protagonists, secondary characters and background characters; all of which feel distinct as individuals. Taylor makes sure that when you see a character’s name, you don’t need to think about who that is, you just know. Chimaera and Seraphim feature much more heavily and we get some very interesting characters that have hidden depths like Akiva’s sister Liraz, one of my series favorites, or the Chimaera Ziri who is a last link to Karou’s former home and people and who seems like one of the few truly innocent characters in the series. We also get some outright villains in the White Wolf Thiago who I felt read a lot like a sociopath, and Emperor Joram and Jael, the Seraphim brothers who both come across as deeply flawed individuals are who are each a different kind of evil. One character who I felt was truly pivotal to the book was Brimstone, who despite being dead continues to affect the series through either his past actions, his beliefs about the war, and his hopes for both Karou and Akiva; and I think he becomes a character for who we have to rely on the thoughts, opinions and feelings of other characters in order to understand him. All the characters undergo quite a bit of development through the book, some discovering that they are more then they have been told, and some proving that they are a lot less then they are made out to be, and some trying to become better than they are.
The world-building continues to impress as Taylor moves away from Earth and the wishes and takes the plot and characters right into Eretz, the homeworld of the Chimaera and the Seraphim. In the first book Akiva was the only real presence of the Seraphim, but now we get to learn a great deal more about them from the lecherous Emperor Joram and his thousand-sized harem, the glass city of Astrae and the dead traditions of the mages. Taylor puts a lot of detail and back-story into the Seraphim, making them more than just the enemies of the Chimaera and through Akiva showing how the soldiers of the Misbegotten and the rest of the Seraphim view the war and how they begin to change over the course of the book’s events. The Chimaera are also expanded, quite a bit about them in the past was revealed in the final third of DoSaB but here we get to see them in the present, how they adapt to the changing situation of the war, how the resurrection magic changes the face of the Chimaera and we get some chapters devoted to some civilian Chimaera that show some of the relationships between different species and that the Chimaera are a very vast group with hundreds of different races and cultures. Some of my favorite parts were the scenes when the Chimaera interacted with humans, seeing how these immense and scary-looking creatures were fascinated by simple human things like music and chocolate was quite amusing, and a nice break from the sense of war-weariness and desperation that a lot of the book features.
The prose of the book is just as distinctive as the first novel, the writing feels unique to Laini Taylor and like the first book there are plenty of identifying features like chapters with only one page, chapters entirely written in email form, chapters written as narration over the events rather than direct telling of them, and the one page section dividers that give the story a very fairy-tale feeling and give you a picturesque idea of what is coming in the next part of the book. The same beautiful descriptive prose from DoSaB is here as well and it creates a very enthralling world, both the Chimaera and Seraphim’s homes feeling like different worlds occupying the same space. One thing that I liked quite a lot was that because Eretz is the focus of the novel there are a lot more chances for Taylor to expand Eretz, to add to the mythology of it and the lay of the land, which she does quite a bit by using one-off characters on both sides to show other parts of the world, which I liked because it allowed her to keep the main characters focused on the main plot and not have them go traipsing about as an excuse to explore the world, other characters do it for them.
My favourite quote is this early one, and I think it’s one of the best lines in the series;
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil held a wishbone between them. And it’s snap split the world in two.”
The ending is both the darkest and brightest moment in the book, dark because of what nearly happened and what did happen before the final chapter, what the final chapter means for the last book in the series and because of what some character must do to ensure that there will be a tomorrow for the Chimaera and Seraphim. And bright because hope is still there, what occurs in the final few pages of the book is the moment when hope returns, that the dream thought broken is still a possibility and that the next book could see the dream made reality. Like the first book DoBaS does not tell it’s own self-contained story but rather Act II of this series, which fittingly is where most of the drama is, and ends on yet another cliff-hanger, but a much deeper and hopeful one than the previous book, until the final part where all will be revealed and we get to see how the story ends. One quite interesting move is that in the epilogue we get to see a little bit of the third book, or at least what will happen not quite at the beginning of the book but a little way in, which I liked because it along with other events in the final few chapters, added immense possibilities for the final book of the series.
For a great story that was both dark and bright and surprised me many times, characters that continue to impress and really stick with you even after you read the book, and more of the wondrous world of Eretz that really pulls you in and makes you believe in magic, I give Days of Blood and Starlight a score of 8.9/10. This book will not disappoint anyone who loved the first installment in the series as I did, and it will definitely leave you wanting more. As with the first book I would suggest DoBaS to any fans of magical fantasy and dark fantasy, this is a series that you will regret not picking up sooner. I waited to read this book so that I wouldn’t have to wait, fortunately the final book was released only shortly after I finished so I was able to start it quite quickly. But that is for another review.
That’s it for this review. Thanks for reading, until next time;
AVE DOMINUS NOX!