Few books have affected me the way Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone did. Beginning with the opening lines, “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well,” this story surprised me with its inventiveness, razor-sharp insights into the ways of the heart, and truth-telling.
Despite Karou’s mysterious background and history, and the tattoos of eyes on her palms, she is, for all she knows, a normal human art student, studying in Prague. Okay so she was raised by Brimstone, a half-beast, half who-knows what else, with ram’s horns, who deals in teeth and wishes. Written in close-in third-person narration, the beauty of this story resides in its ability to keep the reader, and the protagonist guessing about Karou’s truth. Interspersed with the story of Karou, who using enigmatic magic portals to other locations on the globe, Taylor introduces a character of ethereal background, Achiva, whose sole purpose initially seems to be to thwart Karou’s errands to collect teeth for Brimstone.
With each reveal, the story becomes more and more intriguing, drawing the reader into the world of the Chimera and its battle against the Empire of “Angels.” But this story is no mere fantasy concerning forbidden love. This complex tale explores the nature of war, the process of empire, and the slippery definitions of good and evil in a world where truth seems to depend on one’s personal perspective and the vagaries of a war dependent on tightly controlled knowledge. In Taylor’s story of betrayal and redemption, hope and despair, the final, devastating passage drives a shattering wedge between Akiva and Karou’s that makes waiting for the next installment (due out November 2012) feel something akin to the torture the two deeply drawn protagonists experience themselves.
The frank discussion of passion, sex, and love make this appropriate for older YA readers, but most of the “action” takes place off screen and the love relationship at the center of the story involves a deep exploration of the joy of intimacy, trust, and the giving of oneself to another. For your fantasy lovers, this is a must read in the vein of Kirsten Cashore’s Fire.
Sex = S
Violence = V
Questionable Behavior = ?