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?
Note: This is the first book of a trilogy.
Published by Little, Brown, and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2011