SPOILERS for Daughter of Smoke and Bone: if you have not read the first volume in the series, this review will give away important plot points.
This is a very dark book. Unlike Daughter of Smoke and Bone, there is very little hope or levity to balance the elements of war, hatred, racism, abuse and despair that are the foundations this story. BUT it’s worth the struggle and the heartache- it really is. This is one of the few second-in-a-trilogy books I’ve read where the characters really grow and the conflict is more than filler between the intro and conclusion of the series.
When we left her at the end of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Karou had learned the truth of her origins and her purpose, and has since been drawn back into the war that has been tearing Eratz- her true home- apart for over a thousand years. With this knowledge comes the revelation of her unintentional contribution to the carnage: her love of Akiva opened the way for the seraphim to learn the secrets of her people, the chimaera, and effectively decimate them. In penance and rage, Karou takes up the mantle of her mentor Brimstone and subjugates herself under the command of the White Wolf Thiago: general, war hero, resistance leader…and her executioner.
The seraphim have declared the war over; Akiva’s leadership in the successful destruction of the chimaera city of Loramendi and his knowledge of the enemy’s one tactical advantage has led the emperor to believe the angels victorious. Akiva is now “Beasts’ Bane” and the “Prince of Bastards,” which creates a horrible but helpful shield to hide his actual activities as he undermines the angels’ quest to destroy the remaining “beasts.” Slowly over the course of the story, Akiva begins to work on the minds and loyalties of his only friends- his half-siblings Liraz and Hazael- and show them that there must be another alternative to war and death.
Days of Blood and Starlight is rather brilliantly constructed. What first seems like a pretty simple back-and-forth between Karou and Akiva’s perspective’s eventually widens to include other views in both worlds, which then converge in the respective Earth/Eratz events. We spend time with Zuzana and Mick (yay!) in Prague as well as Chimera refugees; both “side” narratives prove much more important than they first appear. Not to get too lit-crit here, but there is a lot of duality used to great effect- the contrast (or, rather, similarity) of the Seraphim general Jael and the Chimera leader Thiago, the journey narrative of Zuzana and Mick mirroring that of the refugees, the very obvious juxtaposition of Karou and Akiva’s reversed roles (she makes soldiers, he tries to unmake them) all come together in a smooth, unforced way that makes the process seem deceptively simple- and inevitable. There are conveniences and contrivances, but they work seamlessly within the story and never feel less than probable.
Starlight introduces us to new characters, but also fleshes out some that Daughter introduced but never really examined in any depth. Expectations and beliefs are constantly shattered as Taylor presents so many shades of grey in the conflict. It is very easy to first see the angels as the “bad guys” and the chimaera as the good, but there are many, many gradations and personalities on each side. The war is a very visceral experience, not least because we are immersed in the lives of these characters and we see the internal as well as the external struggles. Even the ones that we only see from the outside, like the assassins the Shadows That Live, are made interesting by shades of doubt- are they really devoted to the “cause,” or could even creatures that murder the enemy in their sleep want to change?
Both sides have been subsumed by hatred and revenge, and the overwhelming urge to avenge rather than forgive seems insurmountable. The cycle of violence is tentatively broken by Akiva as he undermines the Empire, but also begins to crack under the force of an astonishing revelation given to Karou- and a series of tricky and startling plot twists that lead into the cliffhanger ending. I won’t give any details- the ending is just too much of a wonderful gut-punch for me to ruin it here. I couldn’t get my hands on the last book fast enough after finishing this one.
(The audio version with narrator Khristine Hvam is just as phenomenal as her reading of the first volume. Highly recommended)