Laini Taylor, author of Daughter of Smoke & Bone, starts us off with a standard urban fantasy look. Her heroine, Karou, has tattoos, bullet wound scars and blue hair. She is trained in martial arts and frequently leaves her art school in Prague to “run errands” that take her all across the globe. Demon hunter, right? In fact, Karou is something very different, and Daughter of Smoke & Bone is one of the freshest fantasies I’ve read in a long time.
Taylor confounds expectations at almost every turn. There are demons, there are angels, there is a war and an incandescent love story, but none of it unfolds as I expected.
Karou, she of the plaintive wolf’s-call of a name, is seventeen. She has her own apartment, a handsome ex-boyfriend who won’t get the hint, a wonderful best friend named Zuzana, and a very strange foster family. Before I even got into the otherworldly parts of the book, I was captivated by the relationship between Karou and Zuzana. These are teenaged girls at their best: funny, witty, perceptive, sometimes unsure of themselves, creative, smart and loyal.
Soon, though, the book introduces Akiva, a supernaturally beautiful man with eyes like amber fire and gleaming feathered wings. It isn’t too long before his life and Karou’s intersect. Mortal enemies? Star-crossed lovers? Soul-mates? All of the above? The book lets the innocent Karou and the tortured Akiva discover those answers for themselves.
Taylor is a master of pacing, and part of the delight of this book is the assuredness of the prose. Taylor is a beautiful writer and a disciplined storyteller. Several times throughout the book I would catch my breath at a description or witty bit of dialogue, but Taylor also managed to keep her gorgeous prose largely transparent. The words are put in service to the story, not vice versa. The controlled pacing and the masterful writing let Taylor play with serious themes without getting heavy-handed — and there are serious themes addressed here, like the impact of war, and ethnic hatred. The book does not provide a simplistic “love conquers all” answer. The problems Karou and Akiva face are real. They are deep. The dramatic and powerful ending proves just how real and deep those problems are.
Kelly Lasiter’s review (above) whet my appetite for this book, and I was not disappointed. I enjoyed this book so much that it scared me, because Taylor has set the bar very high for book two. The skill level she demonstrates here makes me trust her, though. I recommend this book for any young person you know who enjoys fantasy — and for you, and your friends.