Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone was one of my favorite books last year, a sparkling, quirky gem of a fantasy. Karou, with her blue silk hair and the eyes on her palms, captivated me. The mysterious story ended darkly, but it was filled with humor and whimsy.
Days of Blood & Starlight has plenty of darkness, at least at the beginning. Karou has left Prague and her art student life and fled to Marrakesh, where she is helping her people, the chimaera, building magical bodies for their spirits to inhabit. Karou is grieving the murder of her family and the immolation of her love affair with Akiva, a seraph – the enemy of her people.
The most disturbing thing is that she has allied herself with Thiago, the White Wolf, the chimaera who tortured Akiva and executed Karou, in her previous incarnation as Madrigal.
This book is far grimmer than the first, and even the landscapes are starker, both in our world and in the land of Eretz, home of the chimaera. Taylor has taken on serious themes here; racial hatred, imperialism, terrorism, and she doesn’t pull her punches. For the first third of the book, Karou is isolated, vulnerable and doubt-ridden, nothing like the strong young woman we met in the first book. Fortunately, she is joined by her friends Zusana and Mik, who bring back some of the wild, irreverent joy we saw in Prague.
… For that matter, how many people ever got to buy a maybe-antique maybe-silver ring for their beautiful girlfriend in an ancient mud city in North Africa and eat dried dates out of a paper bag and see camel eyelashes for god’s sake… hey, where are all the people going?
Daughter of Smoke & Bone focused mostly on Karou and Akiva. Now, each of them must reach out to others, and we see more of Akiva’s brother and sister, Hazael and Lirez. We see more of Akiva’s hidden magical abilities developing, too, which actually begs a question from the back-story; if Akiva’s Stelian mother was so powerful, how was she captured and turned into a concubine? Perhaps this will be better addressed in the next book.
Taylor’s vision of the chimaera and a world at war is as crisp and vivid as ever. The obstacles between Karou and Akiva, and between Eretz and peace, seem convincingly insurmountable, and the book is suspenseful and dramatic. Karou and Zusana, art and performance students, understand the power of spectacle, and both of them realize what it will mean when the seraphim begin appearing on earth.
The pair of seraphim stood not a wingspan away, and their mythic, angelic perfection was everything the “beasts” were not. Karou saw them with her human eyes, this army she had rendered more monstrous than ever nature had, and she knew what the world would see in them if they flew to fight the Dominion; demons, nightmares, evil. The sight of the seraphim would be heralded as a miracle. But chimaera? The apocalypse.
Jael, a seraph commander, comes across as a James-Bond-style villain. The seraph emperor abuses his own people, and there is no compelling motivation for the seraphic drive to imperialism. I think the issues of the seraphim back-story will be better addressed in the next book, because we’ve been given a “sneak peak” of the Stelians, another group of seraphim, with whom the emperor wants a war.
Days of Blood & Starlight is a grim tale and suffers just a bit from second-book syndrome (let’s gather the forces), but it is still powerful and original. Karou and Akiva are two people on opposite sides of a millennium-old war, who are trying to join forces and do the right thing. And, they are trying desperately to hold onto their love. Karou means “hope” in the language of the chimaera, and at the end of the book, hope still lives.