Guest Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor

This is a review for keepcalmandreadabook from my lovely colleague, fellow book lover Jane. Her favourite three books are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (see my review here), Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen and Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens.

“‘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 her things. When Brimstone called, she always came.”

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first of a fantasy trilogy by Laini Taylor. Beautifully written and evocative, this is essentially a story of love and loss, and perhaps even a reworking of a tale about good and evil.

Blue-haired, eccentric Karou has two lives; the first as an art student in Prague, the second, secret life, as an errand girl for Brimstone, the monster (or chimaera) that raised her. Karou lives her two lives – partly in the real world of modern Prague (wonderfully captured in Taylor’s prose) and partly in Elsewhere – the shadowy realm of Brimstone.

Brimstone trades teeth for wishes in his ‘shop’, reached via portals from around the world. The worst dregs of humanity visit Brimstone to exchange human and animal teeth (often illegally acquired) for wishes. As Brimstone’s errand girl, Karou is sent on various missions; some dangerous, some fun, some only hinted at, but all based on a search for teeth. All of which gets the inquisitive Karou wondering… What does Brimstone actually do with the teeth once humans have traded them for wishes?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
is the first part of this new trilogy, and therefore there is a large element of setting up the story and characters for future volumes. As the story unfolds, Karou begins to question her connections to Elsewhere… who is she, where did she come from, how did Brimstone come to raise her and where does the other door, the second door from Brimstone’s shop really lead and what are the hamsas (symbols) tattooed on her palms?

It is only when the angels (seraphim) arrive, destroying all portals to Brimstone and Elsewhere, and Karou find herself set adrift in Prague, that her past and future begin to emerge from the shadows.

Karou finds herself locked in a deadly fight with a seraph, Akiva, but instead of being able to hate him for destroying the portals to Elsewhere (and her links to Brimstone, the only family she has ever known), she finds herself irrevocably drawn to him.

Akiva bears little resemblance to the ephemeral icons of love that we might think of when we picture an angel; instead, he is a manifestation of desire to Karou and sparks fly when they touch. Karou and Akiva begin to recognize that they know each other from the past – a past Karou has no memory of. With Brimstone gone and Akiva now omnipresent in her thoughts, she must make a choice; to live the life of a Prague art student or to find a way back to Elsewhere to finally discover who she actually is.

In the unspooling of the story from this point forward, Laini Taylor is setting the scene for the next in the trilogy, uncovering a centuries-old war between the chimaera and the seraphim – a war where both sides believe they are right and which may, as we progress through the next two books in the series, play on the myth of angels being good and monsters being bad… As this volume ends, Karou discovers who she is, but at what cost?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is enthralling, vivid and almost certain to captivate readers of this genre. With snappy, modern dialogue, this fantasy work is balanced beautifully with closely observed descriptions of the ‘real world’, too.

This is not a genre I usually read, but I will certainly look out for the next book in the trilogy.

Many thanks to Jane for the review, and Hodder & Stoughton for the review copy.

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