Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1
Author: Laini Taylor
Pages: 418 (hardback)
Published: September 29th 2011
Published by: Hodder & Staughton

"Errand requiring immediate attention. Come. 

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things. When Brimstone called, she always came." 
In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole. 
Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

Karou has grown up living in two worlds. The world we know, and Elsewhere. There are four creatures who inhabit all she knows of Elsewhere and they have brought her up and loved her. Of course her life here (in Prague!) isn't allowed to overlap with Elsewhere and no one really knows her, her history. They think her drawings of her chimaera family are just her imagination, not realising the horrible truth. That Brimstone is real, and he really does collect teeth - from human to jaguar to elephant tusks.

I loved this book. Completely and utterly. I sat down and read it in a matter of hours, because of the characters, the settings, the world and the story. They're all beautiful, and there's mystery there to keep you reading on top of all that. All this is making it rather hard to review, because I just want to gush about it, but I'll do my best.

You're dropped into a mystery, knowing at first as little about Karou as her friends, but more is slowly revealed in the course of the first few chapters until you know as much as Karou. Which isn't saying a lot, because she doesn't really know who she is at all or how she came to be brought up in Brimstone's shop. The story slowly unfolds, and there are enough hints and clues along the way for the reader to work out what is going on, though the how and the why don't become clear until the end. And while I did work out what was going on, it wasn't obvious all the way through the book. It was a process rather than one thing being said and you realising everything while the characters just look stupid for not being able to.

There is something of a non-sequential aspect to this book and histories of a couple of the characters are visited in the later chapters. This normally bothers me in a book: I prefer to sit down and for it to go from A to B and not jump around on the time line but here it didn't bother me, I think simply because of how necessary it was. There was no other way the story could have been told.

Taylor has created a wonderful and intriguing world with the chimaera and her twist on angels and what they are. Mythologies collide with the modern-day in a great way, and I love that the magic isn't overt. It is there, but more in the little things (for the most part). The doors all over the world that lead to Elsewhere, but only when opened from the inside. Things like that, the subtle undertones rather than the full-blown spells-flying-around-everything kind. The whole thing put me in mind of Pan's Labyrinth - that collision of worlds and a girl stuck in the middle of it.

Zuzana is Karou's best (human) friend, and she's a wonderful, lively, bubbly character who I would genuinely love to be friends with. She shares something of my sense of humour, and she reacts in a believable way to the things she sees and has to put up with. Akiva is also wonderful, though in a whole different way. He is strong and handsome and deadly, but he is flawed and makes mistakes. Some pretty big ones, as we come to see. And Karou herself is a great leading lady. She is strong and could be self-sufficient, but she doesn't want to be. She wants her family, and she wants her friends. She has her priorities and will do whatever it takes to achieve her ends no matter what other people think of her. Even if that is just turning her hair blue.

Taylor's writing is wonderful, and you always have a really clear image of the places and the people - not easy when a fair portion of your characters are jumbles of half-human half-animal. Prague is beautifully described, and it just makes me want to go there even more! But it's the emotions that she can put across as well, how Karou feels as she goes through everything.

I got this book from the library, but I will definitely be buying a copy of my own and cannot wait for the sequel.

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