Review of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by LAINI TAYLOR
(review based on an advance reading copy)
I've discovered another magical find! DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE starts with an offbeat, attention-grabbing scene that hooked me immediately, and it didn't take long for my intrigue to spark into infatuation. I'm a reader who can easily put down a book, even when I'm adoring it, because now and again I like to do other things, like eat or sleep. That's why it's all the more impressive when I find a book so good that it calls to me even when I'm trying to finish some actual work.
I've mentioned before my stance that there are two kinds of gifted writing: that which turns invisible and that which demands admiration. Taylor's is the latter. I was hyper aware of the writing style at all times, but in a positive way. She handles words with such love, devotion, and care that I frequently paused my overeager reading rush. Not only does Taylor craft unique turns of phrase and evoke intense sensory imagery, but she does so on almost every single page. There were a handful of times when the writing stumbled over itself with a jerky point of view change, such as when the author inserts her own voice to tell us pretty obvious details about a character like that the protagonist is very mysterious, but those awkward moments can be counted on one hand.
The pace is the work of a master, hitting a nice balance of suspense without frustration. A lot of information is withheld, something that can easily, and often does, annoy me, but in this case it worked. Karou, the mysterious protagonist, knows as little as we do (often less), so I enjoyed the journey of rediscovering a forgotten past with her. Taylor feeds her readers new information on this imagined world and its secrets in little bites that kept me constantly appeased: never starved, never bloated.
After finishing the book, I realized it's a fairly direct Romeo and Juliet spin-off, only with so many added layers and so much entrancing world-building that one might miss that. The back cover describes the story as a forbidden love tale; however, it actually takes quite a while, perhaps a third of the book even, for that portion of the story to take off.
As a brief summary, Karou lives among humans, but she was raised by chimaera, creatures with mixed human and animal features. While she has mortal friends and does in fact share her fantastical life with them, they all assume the bizarre tales and drawings are nothing more than the work of a creative imagination. Karou's guardian, Brimstone, sends her out on strange, disturbing, and sometimes dangerous errands to collect human teeth, though he refuses to explain their purpose...which I never could have predicted!
My only annoyance with this book is that I wasn't aware it's the first in a series until I neared the end and found myself mentally chanting, "How on earth will she wrap this up in only twenty more pages? In only ten? Five? Two?" Then I reached the last line "to be continued" and did feel quite disappointed to know I wasn't anywhere near reaching a conclusion. However, I do believe that if someone starts this book with the knowledge that it's the first in the series, it does find as nice a closure point as possible with such a grand plot, though I admit the end was the only time when my nicely fed reader's appetite felt the slightest bit starved.
This book slides under your skin. The writing reaffirms the power of words and the story hums with fervent emotion throughout, including hope's struggle against a wall of tragedy. From the tensions of a double life to petty (in comparison) social concerns to a tone that can hit hilarity, woe, and romance right on target, there's never a dull moment!