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Laini Taylor - Daughter of Smoke and Bone Legolas Send a noteboard - 01/05/2012 06:35:08 PM
Daughter of Smoke and Bone was one of the big spec fic sensations last year, at least as far as sales numbers and ubiquity (apparently that's a word) went, and some people here seemed to think very highly of it, even if nobody actually reviewed it on here so far, that I saw. So I decided to order it from Amazon in my last three-monthly-or-so order, with rather high expectations for it, at least high expectations taking into account that it's a YA novel.

Sunday evening, I was talking to Roh (RomaVenkat), and mentioned that I was thinking of reading this, so we decided to read it together. Having both finished it now, it's probably safe to say her reaction to it was somewhat more, shall we say, passionate than mine (the running commentary was rather entertaining, I must say), but I'll leave that for her to elaborate on.

Karou is a seventeen year old art student in Prague, with uncertain ancestry and rather flamboyant blue hair. She's also the errand-girl for a part man, part animal creature called Brimstone, who is the closest thing she has to a parent and makes a mysterious living by collecting teeth - animal or human. But when, on one of her missions, she is attacked by an angel with flaming wings and a huge sword, her myriad of questions that Brimstone always refused to answer suddenly gain a certain sense of urgency.

YA spec fic is a hugely booming genre of late, seeming to crowd out to a large extent the more realistic YA novels of the past generations. Or at least that's the impression I get, but then I'm not exactly part of the target audience anymore. In the best cases, like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the speculative fiction elements still leave enough room for elements and character developments that make the characters feel like genuine teenagers, and that make the books more than simple escapism. Other authors are not as successful in that regard; Stephenie Meyer's infamous Twilight series has its moments of relevance, but in the end the author wholeheartedly embraces her escapist fantasy.

As for Taylor, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, for now (this book is the first in a planned trilogy, with the next book expected to be released in November). Karou certainly has potential as a heroine, even if one wonders if it was really necessary to make her super gorgeous and everything - the blue hair alone should have been enough, you would think. The inevitable star-crossed romance, on the other hand, feels a bit too lazy and inevitable for my taste (and would have been visible from a mile away even if Taylor hadn't actually "spoiled" it in the tagline of the book). On the supernatural parts of the plot, the jury is still out for me - there are certainly a number of original concepts and ideas that I liked, but the book ended on a big enough cliffhanger that I'll have to wait and see how things progress; there were also some terrible clichés, so here's to hoping the original ideas win out over the clichés in the end.

In terms of pacing, Taylor has a bit of a problem. The mystery of Karou's birth and origin is one of the central elements of the plot, and it's fairly obvious from the start that it will be key to the climax of the novel. About three quarters of the way in, her lover, having recently realized the truth, finally agrees to tell her. At which point the remaining quarter of the novel is taken up by the flashback and backstory building up to the explanation of the mystery, except for the final handful of pages showing Karou's reaction to it and leading into the next novel of the trilogy. Regardless of the quality of said flashback, such a structure was always going to suck the momentum out of the book, if you ask me. I'm not really sure what would've been the best option here, but this was not it, especially since the flashback is for the most part cliché fantasy fare, albeit with a few nice twists at the end. Perhaps Taylor could have saved this entire section for the beginning of the second novel - leaving the reader with Karou's reaction to the revelation, but without the revelation itself. In my experience, the beginning of the second novel is a better place for a lengthy flashback or alternate plotline than the closing quarter of the first one.

The writing, word choice and humour were rather to my liking, which, combined with the positive elements in the plot and characterization, made Daughter of Smoke and Bone an enjoyable read for me, and a book I was loath to put down. No doubt it's among the better books in the YA spec fic genre, and I look forward to reading the next two books; however, the points of criticism mentioned above force me to conclude that the novel did not live up one hundred percent to my expectations, nor to its own considerable potential. I hope the next two will keep the good aspects while improving on the not-so-good.
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Laini Taylor - Daughter of Smoke and Bone - 01/05/2012 06:35:08 PM 7916 Views
Re: You've left me a lot of room to be MEAN about this book. - 01/05/2012 06:45:33 PM 1497 Views
I have never heard of the book - 01/05/2012 06:59:23 PM 1329 Views
I reviewed this for SF Revu. - 10/05/2012 03:50:58 AM 1319 Views
I'm going to have to reread it - 11/05/2012 08:26:19 AM 1453 Views

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