Friday, January 20, 2012

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor (first review for the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge)

Here's my first review for this
wonderful challenge!!

For the rules and a list of hosting blogs,
just click on the challenge button in my sidebar.

There are great prizes involved,
so be sure to check out
the rules and consider joining in!

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Format: Hardcover, 418 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

Since I love beautiful book covers, it wasn't surprising that I should have felt attracted to this one.  That blue mask, those enigmatic eyes...the bold lettering...but it was the story inside that held me, and didn't let go until the very surprising end...

I had already seen the book on other blogs, and noticed that the reviews were, for the most part, overwhelmingly positive.  Besides, those eyes were following me everywhere, almost as if they were daring me to plunge right in and find out for myself.  So I did....and discovered one of the strangest, most wonderful, fantastical worlds ever conjured by a writer's pen.  I did indeed see for myself what all those other reviewers were talking about, and fell under the book's spell in spite of some misgivings.

I really like Karou, the main character.  She lives in the fairytale city of Prague, and is an art student.  Her hair is, incredibly enough.  She's kind, quirky, funny, very honest and straightforward.  She speaks several languages with native fluency.  Last but most definitely not least, she can draw like an Old Master.  She's someone I would definitely love to be friends with!

I did begin to feel rather uncomfortable when I met the denizens of that other, strange world Karou also lives in, visiting it whenever she is summoned there.  That was how I first met her 'foster father', Brimstone, and was instantly reminded of the old so-called 'fire and brimstone' sermons.  I couldn't help thinking that the reference was demonic, especially when I discovered that this Brimstone character possessed a very formidable pair of ram's horns, and appeared to have a very weird collecting hobby.  At that point, I could feel myself start to pull away from the book.  The story struck me as much too macabre for my reading tastes. 

To make matters worse, one of the minor characters is a snake woman named Issa.  Snakes and brimstone.  Well...hell.  I was almost out of there!

For some reason, I decided to stick around.  I forced myself to go beyond my all-too-facile assumptions, and continued the journey.  Needless to say, I was very glad I did, because the story that finally emerged proved that Brimstone, Issa, and Brimstone's peculiar collection had nothing whatsoever to do with the devil's sinister abode.  Instead, they were all part of an alternate world known as 'Eretz', which exists on a plane different from our own. Interestingly, the word 'eretz' comes from Hebrew.  When I researched it on Google, I came up with "Eretz Israael", alternately spelled "Eretz Yisrael".  This means "The Holy Land of Israel". 

This strange world is inhabited by two races -- the seraphim and the chimaeras.  The seraphim are angels, while the chimaeras remind me of similar creatures in Greek mythology; in this novel, however, they are mixtures of human and animal.  There are those that have 'high-human aspects', which means that they mostly look like human beings, but might have animal legs, or some other animal feature.

The angels are not the typical Biblical angels.  They are born from a male and a female angel, like humans, and are not immortal.  They are also of flesh and blood, instead of being spirits, although, like traditional angels, they do have wings.  In this novel, they are more like a winged humanlike species that is very much part of a three-dimensional world. 

The seraphim and the chimaeras have been at war for centuries.  Each side abhors the other as evil; both seraphim and chimaeras do their best to eradicate the ones they consider their enemies.  And this is the background for a beautiful love story, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet...

Akiva is another character I found very appealing.  I didn't like him at first, because he came off as a ruthless killer.  There was a very plausible reason for that, though -- he had been bred as a soldier, and it was difficult for him, considering the great losses in his past, to remember that he was a creature with emotions, as well.  Later on, after he had really gotten to know Karou, he allowed his more civilized side to emerge.  He even tried to make amends for his earlier behavior.  I thought this was very endearing.  Needless to say, I ended up liking him as much as I like Karou!

As far as the secondary characters go, Zuzana is definitely my favorite!  She's absurdly funny, but also very caring, as well as very creative.  She tries to make up for her small stature by coming off as bossy, but she's really not.  It's all an act, and a pretty good one, too, because she mixes it with humor.   As I read, I was really touched by the way she cared for Karou, her best friend.

As I stated earlier, I had very mixed reactions toward Brimstone and Issa, but I also came to care for them, as well.  They too, were touching in their love and concern for Karou, although I really didn't like the way Brimstone treated Karou at one point.  He had his reasons, I understand now, but I still didn't like it. 

This mesmerizing, highly complex tale is like a maze that draws the reader in -- perhaps reluctantly at first, as happened with me -- and transports said reader to a world of beauty and constant battle skirmishes, in which seraph despots breed soldiers through their harems, a world in which chimaeras of all species must unite against a common enemy, keeping the secrets of magic hidden from seraph eyes.  It is a world in which two moons alternately rule the night sky, and have been transformed into goddesses.

Taylor's prose style is nothing short of magical.  She has a very unique way of using similes and metaphors to evoke feelings and images of uncanny beauty.  Her sentences shine, prompting the reader (at least this one) to want to highlight them in order to come back to them later, for the purpose of savoring them like fine wine.  Quite a few of them are stored as author quotes on Goodreads.

In closing, I have to say that this novel is, quite simply, brilliantly written.  The characters are truly compelling, the world-building magnificent, the love story enthralling. 

From a Christian point of view, there are a couple of major theological sticking points, so I will have to give the book four stars.  If it weren't for these two things, I would not have hesitated to award it a five-star rating, because it is, indeed, the work of a master storyteller. 


Where To Buy:  Amazon


  1. Smoke & Bone is a really good read. I felt the flashback towards the end was a little prolonged, but otherwise I loved it.

  2. Great review, Maria!

    I've seen Daughter of Smoke and Bone almost everywhere, but I had yet to read a review that was so in-depth. Actually, before reading yours, I hadn't even considered going into the novel - blue hair and outstanding abilities pulled me out after having read way too many stories of 'special' characters.

    Now, however, I'm seriously considering giving it a shot. The fact that the author has gotten entangled with religion is something I didn't know about and that holds me back, though. I prefer to stay away from angel fiction, to be completely honest - though I've the feeling that when I do get involved, I might be unable to stop with them... It's just that I think they're the most difficult of the paranormal creatures to write about.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. I just wanted to say that this was a great review and that I'm not considering to give this title a chance!

    Ron @ Stories of my life

  3. Hey, Jamie! I got up a few minutes ago...yeah, I like to sleep in on Saturdays. Also, I have this nasty little cold...

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by to comment! I did enjoy this book, since Taylor is a superb writer. I just didn't like a couple of things...but couldn't give this novel less than four stars. It's just too good!!

    Have a GREAT weekend!! : )

    (P.S. The "reply" and "delete" buttons are not working, so I'm commenting back in a new comment box. I didn't put those in -- Blogger did. Oh, well...)

  4. Hey, Ron! Thanks for the compliment! I had a bit of a hard time with this particular review, because I really did like the book, but not wholeheartedly. I debated for quite a while about whether to give it four or five stars.

    I agree with your statement about angel fiction. I think the problem with it is that angels are so awe-inspiring, it's hard to see how they could possibly interact with humans for a prolonged period of time. The best angel fiction I've read so far is the Fallen series, by Lauren Kate. And that's because the angels in this series are fallen angels, hence the title. But there must be some great angel fiction out there! I just haven't gotteh to it yet.

    Of course, the way angels are portrayed in this novel, they really aren't angels at all, at least not in the sense that they're supposed to be supernatural beings. In this novel, they're really a humanlike species with wings. So I guess the author calls them angels because of that one fact alone. If you consider the other qualities angels have, the ones in this book just don't fit the bill. Besides, angels are traditionally God's messengers, not only in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but in Islam and Hinduism as well. The creatures in this book have nothing whatsoever to do with any traditional concept of God. That does bother me.

    As for this book having anything to do with religion, well, it's really not heavily religious. It's just that certain concepts held sacred ans true, especially by Christians, are distorted by the author. I can't say more without spoiling the book for you. Since you tend to shy away from anything religious, you might actually not have a problem at all with the things that bothered me.

    Wow. I really got carried away! Lol. that's how much books affect me!!

    Now I'm looking forward to your own review of this novel! Thanks again for your compliment and thoughtful comments!!

    Have a GREAT weekend!! : )

    (P.S. As I explained to Jamie, the "reply" and "delete" buttons are not working. They were probably put in by Blogger. So I'm continuing to reply to comments by going to a new comment box.)

  5. HEy Maria. I loved this book too, except for the everyone-is-so-beautiful angle. The Wishmonger idea is just brilliant, and didn't you just ADORE Akiva? I was saying it over and over again, his name, you know- Akiva, Akiva, Akiva. As Madrigal says, there's music in it. Oh, I love this book... :)

  6. Hi, Varsha! Well, to be quite honest...I didn't like Akiva at first. But later on, when he became attracted to Karou, I saw that he was really a good guy. It was just his brainwashing as a soldier that got in the way. So, after that, I LOVED him!

    The story was excellent, but I did have a few problems with certain things, which is why I gave the book four stars instead of five. I can't mention these things here because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who might read this comment.

    Taylor does write beautifully! If it weren't for those problems, I would definitely have given the book the five stars!

    Thanks for the comment!! ; )

  7. This book is sitting in my TBR pile...great review, now I want to read it.

  8. Hi, Kimba! Thanks for the great comment!! I greatly appreciate it! You'll definitely enjoy the prose in this novel. The story is captivating, as well. I just didn't quite like a couple of things...but overall, it's a really good read!

    Have a nice weekend!1 : )

  9. I absolutely loved this novel-- it was completely unique and unlike anything I've ever read before. I have the sequel in hand and can't wait to start.

    Christina @ Ensconced in YA

    1. Hi, Christina!

      Yes, it is indeed a very unique novel! I've never come across any other that's at all similar to it. I have the sequel, too, and will be reading it sometime this year.

      Thanks for commenting and participating in my giveaway!! :)

  10. Thank you for the detailed review. I started reading this at one time but it was due back to the library soon after I started it. Unfortunately I have other books on my list since and haven't had a chance to finish it yet. I will add it to my summer list and hope I enjoy it as much as you do.

    1. You're very welcome, Erika! I really enjoyed reading this book, in spite of a couple of quibbles I had with it. The characters -- especially Karou and Akiva -- are truly three-dimensional, and the writing is superb! Laini Taylor is very, very imaginative. So I recommend that you get the book somehow, and finish it! You'll be glad you did!

      Thanks for your awesome comment, and for participating in my "Love In Bloom" giveaway!! :)


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