Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
|Book Name:||Days of Blood and Starlight|
|Publisher(s):||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Young Adult (YA)|
|Release Date:||November 6, 2012|
Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for Daughter of Smoke and Bone. If you have yet to finish the first book, read this review with caution.
Once upon a time an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.
So began Laini Taylor’s wonderful Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy a little over a year ago. Now, after fourteen months of cruel suspense that was seriously lacking in Taylor-esque mythical creatures, the second instalment is finally here.
For anyone who missed the first book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone follows the story of Karou, a seventeen-year-old art student who is trying to balance two very separate lives. As well as all the usual turmoil of adolescence, Karou is duty-bound to the surrogate family that raised her, a group of terrifying looking Chimaera who, for some reason she can’t fathom, like to collect teeth. This odd and rather icky pastime has Karou touring the globe at a moment’s notice – much to the annoyance of her friends and detriment to her studies – collecting the molars of an eclectic range of creatures. In payment for her services, Karou receives minor wishes that she can use to make her hair grow blue and play practical jokes on people, but it doesn’t detract from the nagging feeling within her that she isn’t quite whole.
On one of her tooth-collecting expeditions Karou runs into an unnaturally good-looking angel-shaped guy who seems pretty intent on killing her and closing all the portals she uses to get back to her demon family. When he fails the seraphim, Akiva, becomes fascinated with her, despite being on the opposing side of an unending war between angels and demons, and through their fated love Karou discovers all the secrets of her own identity that have been hidden from her for so long.
Days of Blood and Starlight begins in the aftermath of its predecessor’s explosive finale and with Karou’s life changed forever. Because of her traitorous love for Akiva the thousand-year war has finally ended. Her side has lost and her family is dead.
Desperately trying to atone for all she has done, Karou strives to salvage what she can of the Chimaera army by taking up her guardian’s post as resurrectionist. The teeth she had spent her teens collecting can be used to create new bodies for demons that were lost in the war, slowly building a new army for revenge missions on the angels.
But the seraphim aren’t resting either. Their leaders have more wars to wage and won’t be satisfied until all worlds belong to them. Akiva, still burning for Karou and the peace they dreamed of together, plans a rebellion to end the ceaseless destruction, but with both sides out for blood, peace has never looked further away.
Reviewing this book is a tricky thing because the delicacy of the plotting makes summarising without any spoilers nigh on impossible. Laini Taylor’s imagination knows no limits and each perilous situation escalates further in completely unpredictable ways with every chapter. Her fast-paced and beautiful prose demonstrates an incredible skill at suspense building and quite possibly a sadistic cruelty towards the mental state of her readers, as she leaves every chapter with a cliff-hanger of cataclysmic proportions.
Mortal peril levels of suspense aside, what really makes the book wonderful is the characters. Karou is a fantastic protagonist. Strong, insightful and funny, she is instantly relatable and it’s easy to understand her actions and motivations every step of the way. As well as being a solid female role model by herself, Karou is surrounded by loveable souls that give her something to lose, and to live for. Her best friend Zuzana provides the perfect comic relief, fun-filled artistic flair, love and hope that Karou herself is missing now that her life has become so dangerous. She is my favourite character purely because she speaks like she has escaped from an art college in Sunnydale, cultural references included, and is the perfect example of Taylor’s skill with natural dialogue.
Even the noble, upright seraphim have engaging personalities that don’t immediately register under “stock villain”. The few regular angels have become more solid since the first book where they were more of the cardboard cut-out variety. Armed with their newfound personalities, the angels provide awesome action scenes and a lot of tough moral choices that blur the lines between heroes and villains and destroy another convention for the purposes of richer storytelling.
Swift POV changes to both sides of the war give voice to some truly terrifying villains as well. Taylor hasn’t held back with the grim and bloody effects of warmongering and it seems no one is safe from a grotesque and violent death. It isn’t overdone but it provides some context for the hopelessness and fear our heroes face. What is interesting about this book is that most of the danger comes from the side the heroes are fighting for.
Karou struggles against the leader of the Chimaera, the white wolf, who is malicious and vindictive in a very real way. His cruelty towards Karou, and the clever game he plays with her, is justified (in his mind) by past events and at no point does he seem evil for the sake of it.
Akiva’s greatest threat is much closer to home as he comes up against his father, the emperor, and the emperor’s brother, Captain Jael. The two powerful seraphim are dangerous because of their hunger, ambition and short tempers, as well as the fact that their wishes are enforced by an army that won’t just stand around you in a circle and attack you one at a time.
Although there are plenty of recycled motifs, Days of Blood and Starlight has wandered away from traditional YA fantasy and turned it into a full-blown epic that is refreshing and exciting. Despite the use of some common elements, nothing happens as you’d expect and the stream of surprises, in both the plot and the way it’s presented, are constant and thrilling. If you’re looking for a book to take over your life completely and destroy all illusions of sleep or a social life, this is it.