I’m going to write this review as though it’s three separate reviews, because I can’t figure out how to review Books 2 and 3 in this series without completely spoiling Book 1. So if you don’t want to read spoilers, you can stop reading after Book 1.
Book 1: Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of Karou, an art student living in Prague. She has a best friend, Zuzana, an annoying ex-boyfriend named Kaz, and a double life, wherein she works for a monster named Brimstone. Brimstone and his cohorts (various other monsters) raised Karou, and she now does his bidding by traveling the world, collecting teeth (?!) from various sellers, and bringing them to Brimstone, who lives behind a magicked door that can appear on any building he wants it to. She doesn’t know what he uses the teeth for, exactly, but she does know he can make wishes from them. He occasionally will give her some small wishes, which she uses to learn languages, dye her hair, give herself tattoos, and exact petty revenges on her ex’s new girlfriend.
One day she notices the burned handprints on the doors. The handprints are appearing all over, but she doesn’t realize their significance until she meets Akiva. Akiva, a seraph, attacks her while she’s out on an errand for Brimstone. Even though he’s an enemy, she finds that she’s drawn to him in some inexplicable way. As the story picks up, their connection deepens just as the rest of her world begins to change irrevocably.
The first time I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone several years ago, I was transfixed. I couldn’t put it down. I was enthralled by the world that Laini Taylor invented and savored every magical detail. Rereading it now, I was so pleased to realize it’s just as enthralling the second time around. This is just such an exciting, fast-paced book, with this delicious feeling of promise that the best is yet to come. My one quibble with this book (with the whole series, actually), is the way Karou and her friend Zuzana talk to each other. It’s super annoying. I don’t know if it’s how teens actually talk to each other (I don’t think it is) or if it’s how an adult thinks they do, but either way it’s cringeworthy, particularly in Books 1 and 2. Still, though, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a 5-star book for me.
Book 2 (spoilers start here!): Book 2, Days of Blood and Starlight, starts off exactly where Book 1 ends. Karou has discovered that the monsters she worked for were actually chimerae, and their world is locked in a constant battle against the seraphim. Not only that, but Brimstone’s work was in saving and preserving the souls of dead chimerae so they could be resurrected–and that she is one of those preserved souls, resurrected into a human body to save her from the leader of the chimera, Thiago, who killed her years ago because she had fallen in love with a seraph. And that seraph, of course, is Akiva. Final twist? Akiva engineered the deaths of Brimstone and all the other chimerae–a final death–just before Karou discovers all of this. Days of Blood and Starlight starts off with Karou leaving Akiva after he tells her this and rejoining the few remaining chimerae soldiers to work for them as their resurrectionist and keep their fight against the seraphim going.
Book 2 is almost as exciting as Book 1, but a lot sadder. Brimstone is a great character, and I missed him in this book. Days of Blood and Starlight is full of the same excitement and these absolutely delicious twists as Book 1, but the flaws show a little more. Karou and Zuzana are even more annoying in this book. There’s also a graphic scene near the end of an attempted rape which is difficult to read. It’s also sort of unnecessary–we already hate the almost-rapist, so we didn’t need this scene in order to justify his eventual fate. Even with these flaws, though, I still really liked this one (also my second time reading it).
Book 3: Dreams of Gods and Monsters is where it all falls apart a little bit. Karou and Akiva are reunited, sort of, as their respective armies team up to take down a mutual foe. Book 3 is still exciting, and I still cared a lot about Karou and Akiva, their friends, and what would happen to everyone. But it’s also a bit overambitious, and I felt like the gears showed a bit. There’s a character (Eliza) who is introduced out of nowhere in order to end up as a deus ex machina, and there are some loose ends that never get tied up. In fact, the whole ending is way too ambiguous for my taste. Karou and Akiva really go through some crap to get to the end, and I was very invested in a happy, or at least, satisfactory ending for them. Instead, the ending is sort of. . . left undone. And not even ambiguous so much as just–not finished. There’s this big scene with this big pronouncement that sort of prepares you for something major, but when the book ends that major thing hasn’t happened yet. I kind of didn’t get it.
I did still like Gods and Monsters. Much as the character of Eliza bothered me on principle, it’s hard not to like any creation of Laini Taylor’s. Her characters are so well-done. Their motivations make sense, and they try so hard to do the right thing, that you can’t help but love them. This is my least favorite of the trilogy, but I’d still give it 3 stars. I think I liked it better the first time I read it. I’m very certain that I will reread Books 1 and 2 (possibly many, many times) but I don’t think I’ll necessarily finish the trilogy every time I pick up the first two.
Final grades: 5 stars for Daughter of Smoke and Bone, 4 stars for Days of Blood and Starlight, and 3 stars for Dreams of Gods and Monsters.