What do you get if you cross Paradise Lost with Romeo and Juliet? Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy, a story that centres on an epic war between angels and demons with a pair of star-crossed lovers caught in the middle. Only the angels and demons aren’t exactly what you’d expect. In the world of Eretz, “angels” are winged humanoids known as seraphim and the “demons” are half-human, half-animal hybrids known as chimaera. Their conflict has been going on for centuries — and has finally spilled over into our world.
When this third and final instalment begins, the world’s population is riveted on live footage of thousands of angels sweeping through the skies and descending upon Vatican City. Riots, vigils, baptisms, suicides and mass panic commence. In the midst of all this chaos, a young university student named Eliza Jones cannot help but feel that something is very wrong with the overly staged nature of the angels’ meeting with the Pope. From childhood she’s been plagued with terrifying nightmares, and after a government-ordered trip to Morocco with her professor reveals a startling find, she realizes she’s somehow linked to all these incredible events.
Meanwhile, our protagonists Karou and Akiva are facing the greatest challenge of their (extensive) lives: trying to forge an alliance between refugee chimera and renegade angels so that they might fight as a unified army against the seraphim invasion. Their desperate hope is that by stopping Jael, the commander of the seraphim forces, they’ll somehow be able to find a way to end the war and create a life together.
At this point, it seems redundant to outline either Karou or Akiva’s story-arcs. Their complicated history has been built-up over the course of two books, and you can’t simply jump into this final instalment before first reading its predecessors: Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight. Suffice to quote the epigram at the start of the story: “once upon a time, an angel and a devil pressed their hands to their hearts and started the apocalypse” and you can easily infer the rest.
Although the odds seem impossible for Karou and Akiva, they have a secret weapon. Despite the superior numbers of seraphim, the chimaera have the ability to transfers souls from one body to another — and at the end of the previous book, the greatest chimaera general of all, the cruel and violent White Wolf Thiago, had his dead body reanimated with the soul of their most trusted ally: a chimaera youth called Ziri. It’s only by Ziri impersonating Thiago that they have a chance of convincing the rest of the chimaera that an alliance with Akiva’s “Misbegotten” legion (named so because of their status as the illegitimate offspring of the seraphim emperor) is possible.
As the culmination of the trilogy, Dreams of Gods and Monsters finishes most of what it set out to do. The novel very much revolves around two major points: the war between seraphim/chimaera and the love story of Karou and Akiva. Only by resolving the former can the latter have a chance at happiness, and Taylor deals with each plot in equal measure throughout the book’s considerable length.
This is not necessarily a good thing, as I’ll admit that I’ve never been fully sold on Karou and Akiva’s romance (it relied too much on telling and not showing) and their detailed love scenes throughout the novel’s length usually take place whilst FAR more important and interesting things are going on elsewhere. Though I give them credit for consistently placing the needs of others above their desire to be together (other supernatural YA couples are not as unselfish), I was far more invested in the pairing of Zuzana and Mik, Karou’s friends who manage to maintain their witty banter despite getting caught up in all the weird and wonderful events.
I think most readers will be satisfied with the conclusion that Dreams of Gods and Monsters offers, though some minor characters remain unaccounted for and there’s a sense of “ending fatigue” in the book’s final stretch. In an odd choice, the resolution of the seraphim/chimaera war is dealt with surprisingly early and easily (just over three quarters of the way through the book) leaving the reader with a lengthy wrap-up of the book’s third subplot which involves (VERY MINOR SPOILER HERE, highlight if you want to read it): a mysterious team of angels hunting Akiva for reasons that have something to do with the intense magic that he can summon. It’s a little out of left-field and introduces a brand new conflict in the last segment of the book that feels a little incidental.
But one of the joys of Laini Taylor’s writing is her poetic-prose, and her seemingly effortless ability to spin an elegant turn of phrase. In describing the wings of the angels she reports that “every feather was its own lick of fire” and that the after-effects of a nightmare were “still perched on her shoulder like a carrion bird”. Amusing chapter headings include “The Longest Five Minutes in History” and “Cake for Later,” and Zuzana’s continuous banter provides a certain amount of levity in the midst of the story’s darkest moments.
So I’m sad to see this trilogy end as I’ve enjoyed it immensely. It’s beautifully written, with plenty of great characters and incredible world-building, epic in scope and rich in creativity. Granted, I wasn’t totally enamoured with Karou and Akiva as a couple, but I enjoyed their individual struggles and their constant effort to do the right thing against impossible odds. But what I find most telling is the fact that on finishing this book, my first impulse is to go right back to the start of the trilogy and read it all over again, enjoying it anew with the power of hindsight and watching all the disparate threads come together over the course of the three complete books. The DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy is definitely an achievement, and I look forward to whatever Laini Taylor does next.