Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Little, Brown & Co.
Karou has learned, in her seventeen years, to avoid questions about her family and upbringing. It’s easier to blow off those topics than to even begin explaining that her “family” lives in a liminal space between our world and a place Karou knows only as Elsewhere, and that the closest thing she has to a father is a part-ram, part-human, part-other things creature named Brimstone who pays for the teeth he collects with wishes. When huge black hand prints begin appearing on the doors to Elsewhere, Karou’s careful separation of her Earthly and not-so-Earthly lives begins to crumble, and questions that have gone unanswered for seventeen years – who is Karou, exactly? – must be answered.
Oh, you guys, this review does not want to be written. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was so crazily, wonderfully good, but figuring out how to explain that wonderfulness seems to be beyond me. I guess I could put it this way: there was not one single thing I didn’t like about this book. Usually, because I’m a nitpicky reader, there’s something that doesn’t fit, doesn’t flow, or otherwise keeps a book from being perfect. Not so with Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
Taylor unfolds the story in tiny bits and pieces, so the transition from Karou’s human life in Prague to the tumultuous, war-shattered Elsewhere is seamless and natural. Both worlds, and the characters in them, feel full-developed and real. Like Karou herself, the story is much more than first it seems to be, yet it never becomes overly complicated or unwieldy. Instead, the many pieces of of Taylor’s rich, rich world-building come together so believably that it’s never difficult to follow. It’s not the most compulsively readable book I’ve read lately, but the plot’s absolutely gripping, and I was torn between wanting to read faster to have my questions answered and wanting to linger over Taylor’s writing.
And Taylor’s writing is lovely. Karou’s keenly felt emotions – her frustration, anger, loneliness, and love – are the story’s anchor and Taylor describes them beautifully. The relationships between the characters are delightful and nuanced. Characters fight, laugh, complain, and love and they do so in distinct voices. Karou’s friendship with fellow art-student Zuzana, for example, is full of the pithy, banter-y exchanges that are the stuff of real friendships.
(Example: “I swear I hate people more every day. Everyone annoys me. If I’m like this now, what am I going to be like when I’m old?”
“You’ll be the mean old biddy who fires a BB gun at kids from her balcony.”
“Nah, BBs just rile ’em up. More like a crossbow. Or a bazooka.”
That’s the kind of casual exchange you have a with a friend.)
There’s just so much to love about this book. Taylor borrows from Hebrew and Christian mythology but makes the ideas all her own. The writing is beautiful, both on the sentence level and in Taylor’s ability to craft a thrilling, gut-wrenching plot. It’s both epic and surprisingly intimate. A Best Book of 2011, OBVIOUSLY, and highly, highly recommended, especially for anyone with an inkling of fantasy-fandom in them.
Review copy picked up at ALA; official release date is September 27, but you can pre-order right here. AND YOU SHOULD.