Review of “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” by Laini Taylor

At first glance, absolutely nothing appealed to me about the prospect of reading this book, from the title to the cover picture to the notion that it was heavy into fantasy to the fact that it was only the first of a planned trilogy. But. Then there was this:

YALSA TOP TEN BEST FICTION FOR YOUNG ADULTS, 2012
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE CHILDREN’S BOOK OF 2011
PUBLISHER”S WEEKLY BEST BOOKS OF 2011
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOKS OF 2011
KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST TEEN BOOKS OF 2011
LOS ANGELES PUBLIC LIBRARY, BEST OF 2011
CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY, BEST OF THE BEST 2012
BARNES & NOBLE REVIEW, BEST YA FICTION OF 2011
LOCUS (MAGAZINE OF SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY) REC READING LIST 2011
YALSA 2012 READER’S CHOICE BOOKLIST
A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION, 2011
ABC BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK CATALOG, 2011
AMAZON TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2011
AMAZON #1 TEEN BOOK OF 2011
25+ FOREIGN TERRITORIES SOLD
FILM RIGHTS SOLD TO UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Numerous bloggers “best of the year” lists

And so really, does anyone think I could resist?

Karou, age 17, sassy, punky, and blue-haired, lives in Prague, Czechoslovakia and studies art in school. Her home life is a bit weird, however; the chimeric monsters she sketches for school are not figments of her imagination, as her schoolmates assume, but rather the only family she knows. There is Brimstone, or “The Wishmonger,” her stern father figure who sports a majestic set of ram’s horns; maternal Issa, a snake from the waist down and woman from the waist up; and acting as a sort of uncle and aunt to Karou: Twiga – giraffe-necked, and Yasri, – parrot-beaked.

She doesn’t know much at all about how she, as human seeming as all of her friends, got to be a part of this strange family, nor why she feels so empty and lonely all the time:

“Karou wished she could be the kind of girl who was complete unto herself, comfortable in solitude, serene. But she wasn’t. She was lonely, and she feared the missingness within her as if it might expand and…cancel her. She craved a presence beside her, solid.”

She craved love.

Brimstone doesn’t let her know or see much about her past or present life, although he does offer the occasional advice (I love this!):

“‘I don’t know many rules to live by,’ he’s said. ‘But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles – drug or tattoo – and . . . no inessential penises, either.”

He went on to clarify:

“‘When an essential one comes along, you’ll know,’ …. ‘Stop squandering yourself, child. Wait for love.”

But perhaps his more important advice had to do with wishes, for which traders around the world paid in the teeth he collected:

“There are things bigger than any wish…. I hope, child, but I don’t wish. There’s a difference. …’Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.”

When Karou wasn’t busy with school or with her one friend Zuzana, she was running errands for Brimstone. Through magic portals, she would go to different cities in the world and collect teeth for Brimstone. He would never tell her why they were so important, nor the purpose to which he put them. But when he sent her, she went.

Then, on one fateful trip to Marrakesh, she saw one of the Seraphim, or race of angels. Something in her shouted “enemy!” and she ran, but Akiva, the angel, caught up with her. Before long, Karou’s entire life is in upheaval, as she discovers who she is and why, who Akiva is, and why she instinctively considers an angel to be an enemy. And she learns at last the real reason why Brimstone put so much importance on hope.

Evaluation: This is actually a book worth reading twice. The story is an incredible exercise in world-building, and I struggled with that part, so did not pay sufficient attention to the underlying messages of the story. Woven in amongst the fantastical elements is a disquisition on the power of hope, and a meditation on the healing ability of love. (“Love is a luxury. No. Love is an element. Like air to breathe, Earth to stand on.”) And a challenge: what insults can hope and love take, and still survive?

Rating: 4/5

Note: This is the first book of a new trilogy.

Published by Little, Brown, and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2011

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22 Responses to Review of “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” by Laini Taylor

  1. Inessential penises???? OMG!!!! I love that quote. I think we could all live by that quote! I’m going to be laughing for hours. You know, at SIBA last year everyone was freaking out about this book, and I took one look at it and left it to someone else. Perhaps I erred.

  2. I tried to read this one and it wasn’t grasping my attention. I was going through a YA reading slump. I would really love to try it again.

  3. Dang it Jill, you keep adding to my TBR pile! 😛

  4. Alex says:

    I’ve also seen this book everywhere, but I’m still resisting. I’ve had such big disappointments with other meteoric YA novels (e.g. City of Bones) that I promised to myself to be extra careful. Have Divergent on the TBR, since about 2 years ago it was also on everyone’s Best of Year lists, but I’m in a Approach-With-Care mode.

  5. jennala9 says:

    This is definitely not something I would pick up either, but it does sound interesting. I love that books are becoming accessible to so many adolescents that have really great messages in them.

  6. Definitely putting a hold on this one, Jill. How am I supposed to keep that TBR pile from collapsing on me when you keep making me add yet another book to it?

  7. bookingmama says:

    This was MAJOR at BEA last year and I promised myself that I’d read it. Guess what? Haven’t read it!

  8. I struggle with any book with world building, so I’m just not sure it’s for me.

  9. farmlanebooks says:

    I had no interest in reading this book, despite seeing rave reviews everywhere, but your list at the top of this post has convinced me to give it a try.

  10. Staci@LifeintheThumb says:

    Well, you have certainly got quite a few of us wanting to read this one now!! 😀 I think the cover is horrible but you have me thinking I just may enjoy this one even though I’m trying to steer clear of YA trilogies right now!

  11. I am going to admit that prior to stumbling across your page while wandering book review sites to compare how I am doing to how others are doing things, I probably would not know anything at all about this book or this author, but I am incredibly intrigued. I am completely amused about the inessential penises comment!

  12. That cover does nothing for me..nor the fact that it is first of a trilogy..but it sounds oddly interesting. Emphasis on oddly.

  13. Beth Shaum says:

    That’s very true what you said about the focus on the world-building making it hard to know what the message of the story is. I was actually so enamored with the fact that Prague was the perfect setting for the novel that I kind of felt jolted out of that magic when Taylor’s created world entered the story. Which is kind of ironic when you think about it: Prague felt more magical to me than the magical world the author created.

  14. zibilee says:

    I bought this book the day it came out after reading such enthusiastic early praise for it. I tried to start it during the last readathon, but just couldn’t get into it. Now I know I need to try again, because it sounds fantastic. And I agree, no inessential penises. I might have to make time for this one very soon. Great review today, and great quotes!

  15. I have this one in the TBR…. now I need to look at it more closely 😉

  16. Care says:

    This was actually one of the selections to vote on at one of our bookclub meetings. I loved that it was brought up and not surprised it was voted down. Maybe I should allow it another choice.

  17. Vasilly says:

    I love these quotes! Thanks to your great review, I’m downloading this on audio from the library now.

  18. Margot says:

    Looking at the cover, I wouldn’t have picked this book up either. It’s hard to refute all the stuff you have in all-caps or the quotes you gave up. I want to read this one because of all those accolades. The only problem is committing to a trilogy. Oh well, maybe book 2 and 3 won’t be any good. Just kidding – they’ll probably be just as good.

  19. Jenners says:

    The line about inessential penises is awesome!! That should be given on a plaque to all girls!

  20. Bookworm1858 says:

    I resisted reading this too but did end up picking it up and enjoying it. I don’t think it’s one of my favorites (I did not like how the love story was handled) but I think it is definitely worthy of praise.

  21. It took me ages to pick this one up (mainly due to the hype) But, boy am I glad I didn’t have a book to read on one stormy night 😀 Loved it. did a review on my blog as well.

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