Friday, July 17, 2015

DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS



Review of DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS by LAINI TAYLOR
(third in the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy)

I felt both extremely excited and quite a bit hesitant about this final book in Taylor’s ambitious, addictive trilogy. I adored the first book in this series so much that I went read everything else Taylor had written. However, I liked the second one far less and so worried about whether this third and final novel would redeem the series or resonate even less. While I have some reservations, I found plenty worthy of appreciation, both in the series’ overall arch and this final installment.

DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS opens with a brand new character. She’s an interesting edition (significantly more so as the story progresses), but she’s not the reason I bought the book. The author did this in the second in the series, too - opening with secondary characters and plotlines when I cared more about addressing major cliffhangers right away. We return to everyone and everything eventually, but patience is a must for this one.

I found DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT, the second book, a little too dark for my taste and, this latest one, DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS a little too melodramatic. The very first chapter begins with high stakes drama as supernatural creatures bring their war into the human world. From there, these pages overflow with self-pitying “woe is I” sentiment and an everyone’s-hurting-inside theme. (To be fair, the self-pity is entirely justifiable, merely draining when all condensed together.) I even found the writing I adored so much in the first book too indulgently unrestrained now. (A lot of lines would be more affecting if they took the “less is more” adage into account.) Additionally, there’s an abundance of wildly theatrical lines foreshadowing more tragedy in upcoming chapters. I will admit, though, that sometimes the author saved scenes from sensational melodrama with heartfelt sincerity. Some emotional scenes simply struck me as far too viscerally real to belittle them for said emotion.

My main concern for this final book regarded the romance. Taylor handles that far better than I feared, but still didn’t persuade me entirely. In the first book, I felt gloriously floored by this haunting tragedy of lovers ripped apart and one turned numb and cruel by his loss. Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the first book. What Akiva did - blaming an entire race for his love’s death and working towards their complete extinction in revenge - is genocide. I didn’t resent the first book for this violence; I found it painfully heartbreaking but a stronger story for being such. However, to me the second book then elevated Akiva’s actions - as though he wouldn’t have murdered so many hundreds (thousands?) of beings if not for how much he loved Madrigal and how much her death destroyed him. In other words, I felt the series romanticizes genocide. When Akiva discovers Madrigal resurrected as Karou and must come to terms with what he has done, I found it all immensely grim and affecting, but I wasn’t rooting for them to reunite. Honestly, I hoped she would find a new love interest. And book two seemed to set the stage for a reunion in book three. I will say, though, that DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS does a superb job of emphasizing the utterly vital role forgiveness plays in any kind of lasting peace. However, there’s a difference between forgiving (letting go of anger towards) someone who killed countless of your kin...and dating him. Nevertheless, Taylor swayed me far more than I expected, not merely regarding the romance but about the magnitude of forgiveness, and I cherish books that can do that: really challenge your perceptions.

I love Ziri. Speaking of forgiveness, he embodies the concept. Life beats him around with a mind-boggling lack of mercy and yet he never lets this change him. Sure, he despairs, but he doesn’t turn bitter. He self-pities - a little - but he never so much as considers vengeance. I hesitate with this adjective, but he’s the epitome of a pure soul: all self sacrifice for the bigger picture with only brief wistful glances towards what he would have liked for himself.

The humor frustrated me at times. What worked so well for the first book turned forced in the second and flippant in the third. This is a dark book, a dark series. Trying to make such a horrific war funny or even cute only comes across as dismissive.

I have mixed feelings on the ending. Avoiding explicit spoilers,  the book feels like it cuts off before telling the rest of the story. If the author didn’t have a section at the end where she talks about the satisfaction of finishing the series for good, I would suspect it wasn’t actually finished. The end does provide closure for several main plot threads...but unleashes new ones in the last few chapters. I did admire all the extra complexity woven into an already elaborate story, but I didn’t like new conflicts being raised at the last moment, conflicts we’ll never see resolved.

All in all a solid finish to a bold, exceptional series that will stand out in my memory for years. I’m still eagerly watching for whatever Taylor publishes next.

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