This is Book Two of the “Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy” series (see my review of the widely lauded Book One, The Daughter of Smoke & Bone, here.)
This series takes place in a world unlike any you’ve ever known. Earth is still in this fictional universe, but there is a also a parallel world:
“…the great wild world of Eretz, terrible and beautiful, so much still unmapped and untamed, home to beasts and angels, stormhunters and sea serpents, its story still to be written.”
The two worlds, previously kept strictly separate, are actually connected via portals, so that select numbers of humans, chimaera, and seraphim are able to go back and forth. This exchange was accelerated by an unlikely love affair between two sworn enemies from Eretz: a chimaera – Madrigal – and an angel, Akiva. Madrigal was killed by her own people for the treason of loving one of the enemy. But the chimaera have the skill of resurrection, and they were able to save Madrigal’s soul by hiding it in the body of a human – Karou – in Prague.
[A chimera fyi, (pronounced ki-meer-uh) is a mythical creature having a combination of two or more genetically distinct body parts. (It is also the word used in medical research to refer to animals or people given cells from other animals or people for purposes of study. Chimeric mice have been expecially important tools in biological research. You can read more about the use of stem cells to make chimeras for research here, among many other places.)]
Because Karou grew up on Earth, she never knew what she was until, at age 18, she met Akiva and he re-ignited her hidden memories. Almost simultaneously, the angels came through the Prague portal to destroy the chimaera there, and Karou escaped. She took her resurrectionist skills with her, and now assists – albeit reluctantly, her chimaera overlords in their efforts to wreak revenge on the angels.
But vengeance begets vengeance, as well as villany and tyranny, and Karou feels miserable and hopeless. Then one day, on the horizon at her new Earth Portal in Morocco, she sees – to her astonishment – her best (human) friend Zuzanna and Zuze’s boyfriend Mik, hiking over the sand to find her. And the first thing Zuzanna wants to know is: where is Akiva?
Discussion: Usually I re-read the beginning of a series, but I was unable to do so in this case, and I did struggle. I remembered enough, however, to push through, but I don’t recommend it as a standalone.
This series can seem very complicated and daunting. I spent a lot of Smoke & Bone in the fog, as I did at the beginning of this one. So why did I persevere? Because, underneath the very heavy weight of the complex (but fascinating) world-building, there is a riveting story of love and pain and friendship and loss. Karou is not perfect; nor is Akiva, but their agony over their mistakes and their differences is not annoying “get over it” angst, but rather seems authentic, heartbreaking, and not overly drawn out. And the human characters are delightful.
Evaluation: This second book of a trilogy (gaaaah) is excellent, unlike many middle book-children. But it is not an easy read, and it does end with those three little words that can bring pain to every reader, viz: “to be continued…”
Published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2012
N.B.: If you’re interested, there is some fascinating fan art of the chimaera of this book shown here.