Karou is a regular human girl. She’s all of seventeen. She’s trying to get over her jerk of an ex-boyfriend. She goes to art school in Prague. She sketches in her spare time. Oh, and she is in close contact with the Other World.
Before you roll your eyes about another world littered with sparkling vampires and bloodthirsty fallen angels, let me assure you that this world isn’t quite like that. In fact, it is Elsewhere.
And these creatures, which are for all intents and purposes Karou’s family, are not the sparkly kind. Instead, they are Chimaera: terrifying beasts, part human sometimes, part animal, with tusks atop human heads, graceful legs ending in horns, with swinging tails.
But they are all Karou has known for a family; she has no recollection of any other and has spent her whole life passing through the portal to Elsewhere. But her ‘normal’ life changes one day when scorching, black handprints appear on the doors to portals all over the world, as angels assault the Chimaera, in a thousand-year war, so that Karou is confronted not with the question of who she is, but what she is.
This is quite a tough review for me to write. Anybody who saw my Twitter status or Goodreads update earlier in the day would claim that I’m lying, since I apparently loved it, but not in the ways I was expecting to.
But first a bit of back story. So Daughter of Smoke and Bone book has been on my radar for a few months now, from a promotion that Indigo was doing on their website. It had gotten really good reviews and it was constantly being recommended to me by their system. I put it on my Goodreads to-read list, after being intrigued by the synopsis, but had no means of acquiring it since it wasn’t at all in my local library.
After reading some really exceptional reviews for it yesterday, I ran out to the nearest Indigo during the remaining few minutes of my lunch break and bought it. I started reading it on the commute home, and then spent the whole day reading it since I was home sick. (Side note: I sort miss the ability to read a book all in one go; during school, I would forgo my homework just for five more pages or one more chapter. But alas, I can’t do that at work. Or I guess I could, but then I’d be fired and then unable to afford said book >_<)
(Also unrelated but so important to acknowledge, holy COW, what a freaking fantastic cover!)
So let me just say right at the start that Laini Taylor is a magician. Because her words are magic. They shimmer and meld together to form the most beautiful images imaginable. They melt onto your tongue, but take your mind soaring as you explore the world she has created. And such beauty. Even the most simple of actions are rendered beautiful by her words.
The location of Prague is also breathtaking. I don’t know too much about the city, but by the end of the novel, I felt a deep longing to jump on a plane and explore the domes and turrets and confusing alleys of such an ancient city. The details (which I obviously don’t know the truth to) were so vibrant, that I felt that I could see and feel and smell the city pulsing beneath my fingertips.
The first hundred or so pages were amazing; the mysteries of Karou’s identity and her relationship with the monsters kept me turning pages feverishly. Of course Taylor’s prose also helped; the story breathed with creativity.
But then it changed. It turned into something else completely. Something unexpected, kind of like the Chimaera that are described in the book: human faces, graceful and flawless, a human torso, lean and long legs…only to end in claws and a tail. Not to say that I didn’t like it, but it was something completely different from what it began like.
I think my biggest problem with this book was the fact that it was fantasy. I don’t mind fantasy (I kind of love it), but this book wasn’t advertised as such. True, the brief synopsis is kind of vague, as a lot of synopses are, but I felt…betrayed by the end.
The story starts off beautifully, its set in Prague and features this strange girl with blue hair, who runs errands for Chimaera who live behind a door in an alleyway in Prague, on which she has to knock to gain access (and sometimes they don’t feel like giving her access). The errands she runs take her all over the world. Once in the home of the four Chimaera who are like family to her, Karou can open the door once again to find herself in the streets of Paris or in the medina of Morocco. I loved all of this, because it seemed to different from other YA books out there. There was so much internationalism, an understanding and appreciation for the vibrant cultures of the world, which were a joy to read about. But then the story took a shift when Akiva, the angel, entered and it became more wild, more fantastical. And I wasn’t quite sure I liked where it was going.
Akiva and Karou’s romance was also one of my pet peeves. I just didn’t feel it. The description of love and longing is, again, described so beautifully, totally reinventing the common understanding of ‘butterflies’. But Akiva didn’t make me really excited or wish for my own like him, unlike some heroes. He was too melancholic, too perfect, too bland for me to feel anything.
Karou, on the other hand, was fierce and loyal and unwavering. And I loved her for it.
With that, I’m still unsure about my stance on this book. Like I said before, I absolutely loved parts of it, but other parts not so much. I think part of my confusion has to do with the split identity this book seemed to have, the extra claws it seemed to grow a hundred pages in. My perception might have been different if I had known this was fantasy, and maybe my expectations different.
So for that: 3.5/5.
Thanks for reading.
‘Till next time,