Some spoilers for Daughter of Smoke and Bone shall be included in this review, as this is the second book of a trilogy. I know, I know: a young adult story split into three parts. Who comes up with these nutty ideas?
Nonetheless, in any three act story, you must spend the first act establishing your characters, their motivations, and set the wheels in motion for all that is to follow. In the third act you (ideally) bring character arcs to a dramatically satisfying conclusion as well as wrapping up enough of the tale to make everything feel complete. It’s in the second act where you have room to spread your wings — YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE?
After all, spreading wings is a lot of what Karou spends her time doing in Days of Blood and Starlight, picking up some time after Daughter of Smoke and Bone’s “will they / won’t they / oh he murdered her family, welp” conclusion. Absent one resurrectionist to keep the gears of a slowly failing Chimera war machine running, it .. well, stopped. Without the ability to bring their troops back to life endlessly through tooth-magic and the gleaning of souls, the war on another world ended with the Seraphim the decisive victors. And that would have been that, if Karou hadn’t stepped into some rather big shoes to start reviving Chimera soldiers with new monstrous, winged bodies to fight back against the oppressive angels in the other world. Dealing with a tense alliance of former enemies in a hopeless war, Karou spends the days atoning for the sins of her past while her familcidal former flame Akiva seeks to find a way to end the war from the side of victory. If neither can contain the momentum of the forces they’re working with, then they’ve little chance of stopping the forces they’re working against.
Right, none of this makes sense. I get that. And in fact, it took me quite a while to get around to reading Days of Blood and Starlight after I had finished Daughter of Smoke and Bone despite overall remembering it fondly. The longer I waited, the less I remembered why I had liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone in the first place. I remembered liking Karou, a blue-haired, tattooed, teeth-stealing ass-kicker protagonist, loving her relationship with her monstrous family of Chimera, and being let down when the funky worlds-colliding story of the first book gave way to a long historical flashback to retell Romeo and Juliet with goat-people. It wasn’t that the ending act of Daughter of Smoke and Bone was bad necessarily, it just felt rote in a way that didn’t jive with how refreshing the entire set-up felt. Going into Days of Blood and Starlight and knowing that much of it would be dealing with the other world of Eretz, I hoped I could remember why I enjoyed the first book despite not being thrilled with the plot.
Ah, right. Books have writing, and Laini Taylor’s writing is very fun.
For such a dire, wartime oppression sort of story going on at this length, Days of Blood and Starlight remains a fairly light read. A lot of this can be attributed to supporting characters like Zuzana (oh, how did I ever forget about you, you rabid pixie dream girl?) and, well, Zuzana. Along with her boyfriend Mik, she saves the story from being dreary by taking the comic relief role and amping it up to the kind of obnoxious, twee person you might actually meet and hate spending more than an hour at a time with, but for that hour, she’s pretty fun. The writing is brisk, the plot follows through on much of the world building begun in Daughter of Smoke and Bone with genuinely interesting fantasy locations and cultures, and there are just enough dangling mysteries and hopes to keep everything from treading water or becoming too bleak. There is some feeling of ground not being gained, unfortunately. For while Karou begins the book resurrecting dead monsters in a far off country, she ends the book .. resurrecting dead monsters in a far off country. Much of the true momentum of the book is carried on Akiva’s wings, and as a protagonist, he’s a lot less interesting than Karou. Part of this may be the complaint that almost seems to be petty to lobby at a YA fantasy novel, but really, the romance plot in this book is insufferable. I think I rolled my eyes at the impossibly beautiful fire-winged angel the first time he appeared, and frankly, I’m not sure he ever got better. While both he and Karou have perfectly in-character reasons to act the way they do for most of the novel, the problem with showing both character’s viewpoints on a subject rather than leaving some ambiguity is that it ends up just making it frustrating to not want to slam their kissy faces together and scream at them to just reconcile already.
That said, Akiva is flanked for much of his story by his siblings from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and while not as bombastic as Zuzana is for Karou’s portion of the story they work much the same in balancing him out. It’s just a shame that, as is the fate of so many secondary characters, the far more interesting seeming bit parts remain only that. There are a smattering of other bit parts and new characters, including some charming detours into the Chimera living on the ground floor of the war in Eretz and an antagonist who you can never for a second doubt his antagonistic nature thanks to Karou’s top-to-bottom distrust (mildly unfortunate, though there was only one way any pussyfooting about his villainous nature really could have gone even if they’d tried to put it under a smokescreen — as with the romance, I suppose), but as with the first book much of the joy is found in that other character — the world. While Eretz is an interesting enough fantasy world in its own way, I loved and still love the way Laini Taylor works unusual Earth-bound locations into these stories. I haven’t read a lot of YA novels that take place in Prague or Morocco, and the flavor and feel these locations add to the story keep the mundane aspects of it feeling just a little fantastic as well.
In a lot of ways, Days of Blood and Starlight feels more like a wheel-turner than a new status quo. We learn more about the world and the characters, but the plot itself feels very much like a bridge between acts, and that’s a little disappointing. But being a wheel-turner doesn’t keep it from being a page-turner, thanks to the brisk dialogue, brief chapters, and chaotic nature of the chronology that keeps things bouncing from character to character from the beginning through the end. Days of Blood and Starlight makes me look back a lot more fondly on Daughter of Smoke and Bone, as while I still largely remember being unimpressed with the story it told in the end, it refreshed me on just how much I enjoyed the telling. Maybe I’ll find time to sneak a re-read of Daughter of Smoke and Bone before the final book is released in April.