2014 is coming to a close. It was a crappy year, but I did read some really good books. Despite a few weeks left in the year, I can safely say that the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is my pick for favorite read(s) of 2014. Most of the credit goes to Laini Taylor and the books themselves, but I think the fact that I did all three books in audio format with a fantastic narrator (Khristine Hvam) propelled them into the top spot. I won’t lie, I was skeptical about this series at first. The very first page states “Once upon a time, a demon and an angel fell in love.” Maybe it’s the Twilight effect, but it made me nervous.
Karou is a girl leading a double life. She is a mystery, especially to herself; a tattooed teenager with peacock blue hair and unexplained scars, who splits her time between art school and collecting teeth for “monsters” from another world. Her life doesn’t really make sense. When black handprints mysteriously appear on the many doorways between her world and those of her otherworldly family, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall together- violently, and with disastrous consequences.
This first book in the series is primarily billed as a YA romance, of the instantaneous yet epic kind. Fortunately, that portrayal is (mostly) inaccurate. There is a star-crossed love story in there, but the heart of the matter is Karou and NOT Karou-plus-hot-guy.; romance takes a backseat to the search for identity and the desire- the need- to belong somewhere. In fact, Karou really doesn’t experience much romance at all; it’s relegated to flashbacks and backstory and merely informs a much larger story.
As the first of three, Daughter must fulfill our basic needs for introduction without info-dumping, and give a much larger story early momentum. And it does accomplish this, mostly by relying on a reversed structure; the book starts en medias res with Karou and her everyday life, slowly introduces glimpses of her past along with the more fantastic elements, and then halfway through does a complete shift and moves 17 years into the past. Taylor actually pulls a rather genius bait-and-switch very early in the game, but I won’t say more, as the revelation is a really important plot point.
I am having a hard time being very coherent in my overview, as I read the whole trilogy before going back and thinking about the books as separate entities. For fear of accidentally giving too much away or even pulling elements from the other entries, I’m just going to summarize the last few important things.
Essentially, the strength of this book, and the series as a whole, doesn’t rest in one place. The characters are wonderfully formed and grow with each entry (the standouts being Karou and her BFF Zuzana), the world building is brilliant and immersive, and the plot moves without sacrificing style. Taylor is a little simile-happy, but her writing is rich and clear; she is able to balance modern humor and everyday life against much grander things without bringing the reader up short. She’s also adept at building suspense without flashy action or overwrought drama. There were a few moments when I started shouting “just get to the point, already!” but this was mostly a plus rather than a minus- she kept me so invested in the characters and their trajectories that I couldn’t help but be impatient.
As I mentioned earlier, I was initially wary of this one, so I checked it out from the library. Needless to say, I IMMEDIATELY purchased Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters at the end of Daughter. The whole series is brilliant and heart-wrenching and positively addictive. If you need a gateway drug to a great reading experience, I would not hesitate to push this one.