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Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
4.5
Book Name: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher(s): Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Young Adult (YA)
Release Date: September 27, 2011

I first heard about this book when I got my hands on a graphic novel sampler of it at FantasyCon and then afterwards I kept hearing good things about it through its rampaging online campaign. Looking at it as a study into successful digital marketing would probably take up a whole article of its own. Needless to say, there were trailers, teasers, a well-publicised launch party and a dedicated website as well as admirable online profiles for Twitter and Facebook.

Now, personally, I had mentally filed this book into the bracket of young adult urban/paranormal fantasy, that usually is not at the top of my must-read pile. But out of curiosity I did place a reservation for it at my local library – it was of course out on loan immediately upon its release – and for a few weeks I thought nothing more of it. It wasn’t until I collected the reservation and scanned the cover that my interest was really piqued. The back cover (on the UK version at least) has an endorsement from none other than Patrick Rothfuss stating:

“Wow. I wish I had written this book.”

Now that got my attention and I began reading that very evening.

Within the first few pages I was entranced and felt both relieved and pleased that the book lived up to its hype. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first in a trilogy of which I expect the sequel, due out later this year, will be just as well advertised and anticipated. This is a well-crafted story and Taylor demonstrates not only a fantastic command of language and structure, but also has that rare enjoyable quality of a genuine storyteller where the story moves effortlessly from one chapter to the next in a prose style that balances rhythm and motion to great effect.

The first in the series begins the story of Karou, a young art student who lives (most of her time anyway) in the fairytale city of Prague. A setting which Taylor describes expertly, perfectly immersing the reader into this European haven of art and mystery, to provide a visually dramatic backdrop for a story that matches the city’s architectural grandeur and historic qualities. And so we are pulled into Karou’s world of art and darker things as the story takes hold.

Initially, Karou seems like a normal teenage girl, except the blue hair and tattoos perhaps. She goes to college and has boy troubles just like everyone else. She treasures her sketchbooks above all and her friends delight in Karou’s frequent illustrations of her ‘other friends’ Brimstone, Issa, Kishmish and Yasri – the Chimaera. Karou’s imaginary world provides constant entertainment for her best friend Zuzana and just about appeases her when Karou frequently ditches her friend to carry out ‘errands.’

But Karou harbours a secret: the Chimaera are not imaginary, they are real. Karou doesn’t remember her past or how she got the strange tattoos on the palms of her hands. She does not remember her parents and understands very little about her own life. All she knows is that Brimstone and the others raised her from infancy and she grew up in their world – Elsewhere. She also doesn’t know where Elsewhere is, only that it is accessible from earth by multiple portals and that Brimstone has never denied her access to his world, at least not yet.

Brimstone, also known as the Wishmonger, is a hoarder of bones, which he somehow converts into wishes and barters them with his clients. Karou receives frequent summons from the Wishmonger and travels all over the earth – instantaneous transport via the portals – to retrieve rare artefacts for his work, which of course Karou doesn’t really understand either. Still the errands do take her to wondrous far away places and Brimstone rewards her with little wishes of her own that she gleefully employs to fend off an overzealous ex-boyfriend, amongst other things.

The work does take its toll on her friendship with Zuzana though and one day, fed up with racing off at Brimstone’s command, Karou ignores his summons. However, his messenger Kishmish is persistent and when a note arrives from Brimstone that uncharacteristically says ‘please’ Karou is once again drawn into Elsewhere and sent on a mission. Unfortunately unbeknownst to Brimstone and Karou an ancient enemy of the Chimaera once again prowls the earth.

Akiva is an angel and every bit as beautiful and unearthly as the word implies. With a glamour in place to conceal his wings from the humans, he travels the world seeking out and marking the demon’s portals with a scorched handprint. But when his path crosses that of Karou she notices that the shadow of this attractive man has wings and as their eyes meet, their fates are entwined. Karou escapes the enemy, for now, but with Akiva’s work already done the doors to Elsewhere are closing and Karou finds herself at once adrift from everything she knew.

While the heroine of this book is a teenager, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone does on first glimpse sit nicely in the young adult category, the story, like its protagonist, is older than its time and I would not hesitate to recommend this to adult readers. Not only does it have a dark and sinister feel throughout, the ancient war between the angels and demons and the unpalatable bartering of bones for wishes is felt on a deeper level than surface description and the reader cannot help but be drawn into this other world of danger and suffering.

Since reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone I have learned that Universal Pictures has acquired the film rights and it is easy to understand why. The richness of description and the visual themes of the story will translate as well onto film as they did into the graphic novel teaser, so expect to hear a lot more about this trilogy over the next few years. In terms of this book, I for one got a lesson in not judging a story in relation to its hype and the sequel will definitely make it onto my must-read list.

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Rating: 7.5/10 (11 votes cast)
Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor, 7.5 out of 10 based on 11 ratings
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2 Comments

  1. I completely agree. Smoke and Bone surprised me as being a YA fantasy that I really really enjoyed. Also, the marketing campaign that came along with it was one of the best I’ve seen.

  2. Tim says:

    I’ve heard some realllllly good things about that book

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