Laini Taylor’s fresh take on good versus evil, intertwined with a classic Romeo and Juliet theme, is both unique and elegantly crafted. In a decade of young adult fiction crowded with vampires and werewolves, witches and wizards, and all the other creatures of lore suddenly overcome with human love, are there really any surprises anymore? Daughter of Smoke and Bone and its sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, not only deliver to the market their story of monsters-in-love, but does it with an amazingly unique perspective with real emotion and with characters you can care about.
The Thing about Young Adult Fiction
The thing about young adult fiction is that it’s intended for young adults. I know, bummer, right? It appeals to maturing minds that range the spectrum of conceptual understanding of death to the complexities of math and science. Gone are the days of jelly beans and juice boxes; this is grown-up time! But only someone not quite so grown-up would ever call it grown-up time. So what do we get? A genre specifically tailored to minds that think they’re ready to take on the harsh realities of the world, but naïve enough to still believe in fairy tale love and that anything, good or bad, can last forever.
Generally, as adults, we have to remember this when entering into the realm of teen fantasy fiction, let it reassure us whenever we reach that dialogue about eternal love. The thing about GOOD young adult fiction is that there is no hand-holding required—a great story is crafted with characters possessing the essence of an adolescent mind but the strength and dimension to be likeable with or without his/her love interest.
Thus, the perfect author is not one who manages to capture the exact feelings and emotions of teen-dom, thrusting us back to the pimply good old days. No, thank you. We’re looking for an author who can paint a realistic picture—characters who act their age—but do it with style! Not just the large text with regurgitated one-liners demoralizing teen love (more than it already is, as you may remember). We are on a quest for an author whose characters actually reflect on real teens, enough for the teen readers to relate and the adult readers to appreciate. We want a heroine we can love not just because she is so ordinary (or extraordinary) but because she is just herself and because she is strong; she has the gall to take on the fight when she doesn’t have to and not because of a guy.
A Heroine We Can Love
Laini Taylor’s main character Karu, and even her best friend Zuzana, are independent and interesting. They are such characters on their own that their respective love interests only add a kind of dynamic duo feel to their actions and dialogue. The naïveté is still there; they still make mistakes, wonder about the future, get angry at the past—but they stand on their own two feet and make us root for them the whole way.
As for the monsters—think angels and demons. But the angels aren’t really angels, just another race of beings with bright red wings called the Seraphim. And the demons aren’t really demons, but a race of ChimeraRefreshing the Pool of Young Adult Fiction: human and animal hybrids of various combinations. They’ve been at war for thousands of years in a world adjacent to Earth by portals. Earth, it seems, is an excellent way to get rid of “fallen” Seraphim, to hide out if you know where a portal is, or—in the case of Karu, a human girl with a Chimera family—it’s a great place to get teeth. Yes, teeth.
The blue-haired heroine of the story spends part of her time collecting teeth around the world and the rest in art school in Prague, hanging out with Zuzana, a diminutive yet sassy gal-pal who is also a puppeteer street performer. If you are intrigued now, you have no idea what you’re in for. The story behind the collection of teeth alone is a clever addition that just adds to the complexity of Karu’s world and its unrealized (at least initially to the reader) relationship to Earth. But I certainly won’t give away the details.
The love interest is Akiva (sexiest literary name award), a Seraphim, of course. And things are stop and go for these two as they are the epitome of star-crossed lovers. Both books bring us on a journey of multiple lifetimes, split by a wishbone, a war, and two entirely different worlds. The quote before chapter one of the second book reads:
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil held a wishbone between them. And its snap split the world in two.”
But the hope for them remains throughout the story—after all, the name Karu means “hope” in Chimera. Despite Karu’s anger and fear and Akiva’s origins and the siblings he is bound to, the connection that they have, mostly unexplained, prevails. The hurts, the wrongs, and ultimately the struggle, even when it seems hopeless, has us rooting for all the characters to the last page. The story is inspiring and sad, happy and comical. Karu faces terrible challenges but has the strength to take them on and has enough dimension to be humbled by consequences.
This story is about a not-so-normal girl and it’s about a love that survives war. A war within the characters themselves, but also the war that has been raging between their respective peoples for their entire history. We’ve heard this theme before, but not when it’s immersed in the world Laini Taylor has created. A world we want to be immersed in, to learn about, and that we don’t want to see destroyed. A world with characters we root for. And more than that, characters we love because they love—they care so much about their purpose, their friends and their lives that we can’t help but ask “What happens next?” Another book is in the works, and I for one have high hopes for what unfolds for Karu; a teen with a mind of her own, and the strength to take on the world—or in this case, two of them.
Verdict: Buy it!