Monday, March 11, 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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 hair actually 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 one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored 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?

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**Warning, This review contains some mild spoilers**

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.

Ok, so I'll admit that if this hadn't been a BOTM for the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout this month, I probably wouldn't have read it, and I would have missed out on a wonderful book. As the line above from the beginning of the book indicates, it's not a happy book by any means, though there are moments of pure joy for the characters, and the way that Karou keeps rolling with the punches so to speak is quite inspiring. She never gives up hope, which, incidentally, is one of the major themes here. Hope, and the power it can wield.

Karou is a 17 year old art student living in Prague who is really quite mature for her age, though not without a fair measure of "teenager" left in her as well. She comes from a rather unique background: she is human, but she grew up as the foster child of "demons" in an otherworldly workshop owned and run by Brimstone, a chimaera and a sorcerer, though Karou isn't aware of what he's really doing for most of her life with him. She knows he collects teeth, and strings them into necklaces for some reason, but she doesn't know what that reason is, and he refuses to enlighten her. Thus, she grows up around magic, and learns how to utilize it in small degrees herself, primarily by utilizing "wishes" that Brimstone creates as beads and coins. She has a fairly good life with her classes and friends in Prague, and Brimstone and his helpers that she's grown up with in the workshop, but it slowly starts to unravel due to things that have been going on all along that she's known nothing about. Unfortunately, she'll soon learn more than she ever wanted to know about what's been going on, who she really is, and where she really came from. She has to finish growing up fast, but she's more than up to the task, and her unyielding will and determination make her a force to be reckoned with.

Akiva is a seraphim, an angel, and the mortal enemy of the chimaera that Karou grew up amongst. He does have more of conscience than most of his kind, however, as well as an understanding of and sympathy for the chimaera that is unique among them. One of the legion of bastard offspring of the seraphim Emperor, he has been trained as a fierce warrior, though he also possesses something of an affinity for magic from his mother. His life has been fairly stark, ruled by training and warfare, and for most of his life he was pretty much a carbon copy of all of the rest of his brothers and sisters. Until something happened that made him see things differently, and made him begin to question - but which also led to devastating heartbreak that nearly shattered his soul and left him with little but a burning need for vengeance. Along with a few of his brothers and sisters, he's part of carrying out a plan that they believe will lead to the end of the war, and in the course of doing his part, he happens to see Karou, and is instantly intrigued despite himself.

As I noted above, this book is more than a little dark in tone, with a an end-of-days type sense of despair running beneath the surface in places (and fully out in the open in others), but it's not all doom and gloom either. There are plenty of lighter moments scattered throughout, whether it be in the the characters' present day lives or in their memories that get retold, and woven strongly throughout is the message that hope is the greatest magic of all and the one thing that you must not let go of, for in many ways it's the one thing that can bring about true change. But as the saying goes, "it's always darkest before the dawn", and such is very much the case with this book, for after taking you on a rollercoaster ride of emotion in the last several chapters it rushes swiftly toward the edge of a cliff and then drops you over it into an abyss. I've no idea if this series will be headed toward any sort of happy ending eventually or not, but it's a bit hard to see how it will come about given the state of things at the end of this book. I'll definitely be looking forward to reading the next one to see where things go next and whether or not there's an HEA anywhere in sight.

This is very much a 5 star read with a multi-layered plot and multi-faceted characters that endear themselves to you and break your heart. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy, particularly dark fantasy, or who likes stories that explore the ages-old battle between good and evil in different ways. Even if you're not a fan of Young Adult books, consider giving this one a try if your interests are in any way compatible with these genres. You probably won't be disappointed if you do.

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