REVIEW: ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ and ‘Days of Blood and Starlight’ by Laini Taylor (Review by Sarah McDuling)

by |October 23, 2012

Days of Blood and Starlight is the second book in what has to be the most wildly imaginative and beautifully written Urban Fantasy series I have come across in a long, long time.

There was a time I’d have said Urban Fantasy was one of my favourite genres. But then along came a multi-million dollar book/movie franchise that will remain nameless (cough, cough, Twilight, cough) that was so insanely – dare I say inexplicably – popular that suddenly the market was flooded with books about vampires, werewolves, angels, demons etc. Unfortunately, so many of them were so amazingly awful that the genre was effectively ruined for me. Before long, I reached the stage where just thinking about Urban Fantasy caused me to start humming the Gotye song, “Somebody I Used to Know”.  When asked to express my thoughts on my once-beloved genre, I routinely responded with an exaggerated yawn and a dismissive “meh”.

Then along came Laini Taylor and Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I heard a lot of hype about Daughter of Smoke and Bone when it was published back in 2011. Friends recommended it to me – friends whose opinion I normally trusted. Then, too, the cover of the book was very pretty, which should not influence me but always does. I decided that I might be ready to give Urban Fantasy another shot, a chance to win back my love. Then I read the blurb and saw that it was about angels and demons and forbidden love and that was all I needed to know. Based on the blurb alone, I decided Daughter of Smoke and Bone was yet another trite, clichéd, predictable example of how a genre I used to love had been spoiled beyond all hope of redemption. Clearly the book was evil. I ran away, screaming.

And then, a few weeks ago, the book was recommended to me again – this time by my Booktopia co-worker and expert on all things Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Mark Timmony. Our conversation went a little something like this –

Mark: “You should read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It’s pretty good.

Me: (backing away whilst making the sign of the cross with my fingers) “NEVER!”

But I guess there are only so many times that someone can recommend a book to me before curiosity demands I discover what all the fuss is about. So I caved to peer pressure. I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And as soon as I had finished it, I wanted more. I could not get my hands on Days of Blood and Starlight fast enough and was delighted to find that it was even better than the first book.

If you have not read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I strongly urge you to do so. I say this especially to anyone who, like me, may have given up on Urban Fantasy. If you once loved reading about fantastical creatures and magical, hidden worlds existing alongside our own, but then got sick of it all and quit, a dose of Laini Taylor might be just what you need.

Giving a brief synopsis of this series will only make it sound like a hundred other Urban Fantasy books that you have probably already read (or fallen asleep trying to read). So you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you this Urban Fantasy series is something special. Yes, it’s about angels and demons (or more specifically, seraphs and chimaera) and yes, it includes a subplot of Romeo and Juliet style forbidden romance. But the difference here is that Laini Taylor has an imagination that can best be described as exquisitely grotesque. The world she has created in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight is both enchanting and frightening, rich in that special blend of magic and horror that is found in all the old, original fairytales. She matches her gorgeous prose with striking imagery in such a way that her writing manages to paint mental pictures as visually stunning as scenes from a Guillermo del Toro movie.

The Chimaera are beautiful monsters, half human and half animal. The Seraphim are ruthless angels with wings made of invisible flame, seen only in their shadows. These two races have been at war with one another for centuries, while the human race remains blissfully ignorant of their existence. And at the centre of the conflict is a blue haired girl called Karou, who is everything a reader could ask for in a heroine. Brave, strong minded, compassionate and loyal, Karou is no damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued by her one true love. Admittedly, this is mostly because her one true love has become her worst enemy. Still, Karou isn’t the sort to sit around moping just because her boyfriend “did her wrong”. This is why she is made of awesome, while so may other heroines of countless other urban fantasy novels are made of lame.

For those who read Urban Fantasy primarily for the romance factor, strap your boots on for the ride of your life. Karou and her main squeeze, Akiva, have a really spectacularly screwed up relationship. If “forbidden romance” floats your boat, you are going to love these guys. Most of the romance is played out in flashbacks, with the narrative switching viewpoints and time lines so that we get to see both sides of the story – his and hers, past and present. Karou and Akiva’s tale of thwarted love provides an underscore of raw heartache throughout both books, in spite of the fact that they hardly ever see each other in the present time line. In fact, they spend Days of Blood and Starlight fighting on opposites sides of an epic war. There’s no time to make-out. They’re way too busy planning rebellions, resurrecting the dead and love/hating each other from a distance.

Laini Taylor has created a fascinating world, with an equally fascinating history. There is plenty of tension and drama in the war between the races, with a whole host of compelling and original characters on both sides of the conflict. Karou’s best friend Zuzana, and her boyfriend Mik, are a delight to read – funny, cute and very endearing. Meanwhile, the “White Wolf” Thiago is a truly terrifying and repellent villain who, by the end of Days of Blood and Starlight is set up to play a very intriguing role in the next book.

To say that I am looking forward the follow up to Days of Blood and Starlight would be an understatement. With her excellent world building, character driven plots and beautiful imagery, Laini Taylor has reminded me why I used to love reading this genre so much.And while I’m not sure I’m ready to re-commit to a serious relationship with Urban Fantasy, I will say that I’m considering the possibility of something more casual. Perhaps a summer fling?   

Review by Sarah McDuling

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