Just look at that cover! Back in high school I would have snatched this book up so fast. And I bet I would have fallen in love with it too. I’d heard so many nice things about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, so I couldn’t wait to read it and be blown away. My expectations may have been unfairly high, but while I did like it, I didn’t swoon like other people did.
The world Laini Taylor builds is so spectacular, and I was hooked from the first page. Blue-haired, whip-smart Karou is a 17-year-old art student living by herself in Prague. Much about her is a mystery, even to herself. She is an orphan, she has no idea how she got the hamsa tattoos on her palms, and she can use the beads on her necklace to grant wishes. Her adopted family runs a shop where the only accepted currency is teeth. Oh, and this family is made up of literal monsters.
They are actually chimaera, physical hybrids of different animals. Their boss is the gruff Brimstone, whom I picture as some kind of enormous reptilian minotaur. Brimstone is the Wishmonger, giving wishes in exchange for teeth from pretty much any species. He sends Karou through magic portals to various places – Paris, San Francisco, Marrakesh – to collect teeth. Karou loves the chimaera but is getting tired of running errands that she doesn’t know the purpose of. She also has to keep her life hidden from everyone, including her best friend.
I lost some of my enthusiasm when this tortured, impossibly gorgeous angel named Akiva arrives on the scene. He and his brethren have a thing against chimaera, and they are marking the portals to Brimstone’s shop with black handprints. Akiva sees Karou leave the shop and, curious about her connection to the “devil sorcerer,” follows her. Karou is forced to confront Akiva when he attacks her outside the Marrakesh portal, but something about her causes him to spare her. And yup, the first thing the love interest did to our heroine was try to kill her.
This is where I began losing interest in the story, and it didn’t help when I read things like “He was the most beautiful thing Karou had ever seen. Her first thought, incongruous but overpowering, was to memorize him so she could draw him later.” Girl, he’s also trying to kill you! (To be fair, that’s her second thought.) Some readers really dig the romance, and that’s great! To me, it was obvious that Karou and Akiva would get together; what else are two awesomely beautiful people supposed to do? I was also disappointed that their love seems to be based on mutual physical attraction. They don’t really have conversations or share any experiences. Even when it’s revealed why they are so drawn to each other – which I kind of figured out beforehand – their relationship doesn’t gain much more depth.
I really did enjoy the writing, though. Like I said, I loved the worldbuilding – I haven’t been this amazed since The Golden Compass. Taylor also has this vivid writing style that is almost poetic at times. It really sounds like Karou is in a chilly street in early-morning Prague, or surrounded by the heat and noise of the Marrakesh marketplace. And I have to give Taylor mad props for taking cliched elements – star-crossed lovers, angels versus devils – and creating a story that is uniquely her own. I will definitely be reading the sequel.
Three and a half stars.