For years Laini Taylor’s been a favorite here at FanLit, and now I know why. I picked up Night of Cake & Puppets, a stand-alone novella set in Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE world, because it was short and available on audio at exactly the length I needed for a recent car trip: two hours and forty-five minutes. Perfect. That’s not all that was perfect about Night of Cake & Puppets. Everything was perfect about Night of Cake & Puppets. Well, except I wish it had been longer. Longer would have been perfect.
Night of Cake & Puppets is about Zuzana and Mik’s first date. Zuzana, in case you don’t know, is the best friend of Karou, Laini Taylor’s heroine in the SMOKE & BONE books. I haven’t read those books, but that didn’t decrease my enjoyment at all. (Or at least I don’t think it did. Who knows, maybe I would have liked it even more if I had already known the characters.) Anyway, Zuzana has a crush on Mik, who she calls “Violin Boy” because, duh, he plays the violin in the play that she’s a puppeteer for. As far as she knows, Mik has no idea that Zuzana even exists, but she’s got a plan to change all that. And so begins a night of magic. A night of cake and puppets.
So, what’s so awesome about Laini Taylor? Well, first of all she remembers what it’s like to be a teenager and she has some sharp insights into the adolescent mind. Zuzana and Karou think and talk like real teenagers (I know this because there are some that live in my house and, besides, I actually used to be one). Her teens sound authentic and modern, but they’re not the angsty boy-crazy popularity-obsessed girls that populate so many YA stories these days. Zuzana, Karou, and Mik have hobbies and interests beyond music, fashion and gossip. They have jobs and goals, they know things, they want to learn more things, they are creative and have sophisticated senses of humor. These are interesting people that I’d like to know.
Not only are Taylor’s characters interesting, but so is her setting. This story takes place in Prague in the winter, which is really cool, and I felt like I was there drinking hot tea in a café on a snowy night. And, to top it all off, Laini Taylor’s prose is lovely and seems effortlessly so, not pretentiously so. It’s clear, clever, funny, and filled with vivid imagery. The story is told in first person perspective from the points of view of both Zuzana and Mik.
For those who’ve read Taylor’s other work, this novella, which is really a short romance, may seem light and fluffy. It’s a feel-good story that gives just a bit of background on one of Taylor’s secondary characters. Karou, the heroine of Taylor’s novels, is only present on the other end of Zuzana’s cell phone. As long as you know to expect that, you should be immensely pleased with Night of Cake & Puppets. It’s sweet, romantic, witty, and completely entertaining all the way through.
I listened to the audio version which was produced by Hachette Audio and read by both Khristine Hvam, who reads Zuzana’s POV chapters, and Kevin T. Collins, who reads Mik’s chapters. Both do a great job with the Czech accents. Hvam does the other SMOKE & BONE audiobooks, too, so I can’t wait to read them.