Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. And honestly, for the first 200 or so pages of it, I really did. It had all the elements of a good story, an engaging main character: I loved Karou's pettiness. I didn't love her unearthly beauty. (Too many beautiful people with no other descriptors, well it's kind of boring. I figured it was a sign of her supernatural origin, but still, boring.) awesome setting: Prague! I want to go to Prague, and Marrakesh. Well developed side characters: Zuzana was really the best character in the book. She was great, and I loved Issa, and the scholar ridden by a fallen angel. Even when Akiva showed up and started being cringe-inducingly stalkerish, I was good, I was happy.
And then Laini Taylor takes a gamble, and she bets it all on one of the primary fantasy mistakes, and she loses every point she gained previously.
It's the same mistake that Libba Bray made in a Great and Terrible Beauty. It's a common mistake, and it shows a lack of understanding of the genre. The Marbury Lens, no matter how angry it made me, did not make this mistake, and that was why it was effective. There is one primary rule of writing 'two world fantasy' and it is simple.
Rule 1: If your story takes place in two realms, one magical and one unmagical, the magical one must be just as real, just as well described, as visually stunning, as emotionally gripping as your unmagical world.
If this rule is broken, you are no longer writing fantasy.
Laini Taylor has an artistic mind. She has designed a world with two moons, with a caged city, with creatures of every look and shape and size, and every glimpse of it that we get in the first 200pgs is alluring and exciting. And then the wishbone breaks, and we are treated to everything we've waited for, the world, the power, the romance, and it's all empty.
Let's go back through the list at the beginning. An engaging main character: well, no. Karou is gone, and Madrigal, who replaces her, is a stock Cinderella, whining about how no one understands her because she's beautiful, when in truth, she has been incessantly cruel and aloof because she does not understand the prejudice in her own society. (The prejudice itself is unnerving. The idea that a rebelling slave society would want to look more like their former masters is nauseating. If they were just an underclass sure, but they're murdering each other. The wolfier the better. Animal is beautiful! Issa seemed to understand this. Why doesn't anyone else? Maybe Taylor is trying to suggest that Madrigal does, but the fact that she is of high human aspect makes it ring with the overtones of a white person going to a black person and saying "I know you're starving and your life sucks, but you have to stay true to who you are. Even though it would be easier to get a job and save your family, you shouldn't even think about maybe wanting to be white. Your identity is more important than your life.")
Awesome setting: rooftop, road, scaffold, dungeon, glade. The visuals have all disappeared. Maybe Madrigal isn't an artist, but she isn't blind. All we get is the dress, and honestly, a pretty dress is a pretty dress. It's not interesting.
Well developed side characters: Nope. Chiro is a cipher. Wolfie-boy is a caricature. But honestly, even the main characters are poorly developed in this section.
Romance: Well, no, actually. Even in this world Akiva and Madrigal are just soulmates. They don't have a particular reason to like each other. They never fall in love. Akiva is just Madrigal's 'essential penis'. Ah well.
If I had beta-read this book, I would have said, 'okay, those last couple chapters in the other world, they need to be cut. Make the wishbone memories a dark and tangled flashback. Build the emotions, cut the dancing, cut the Thiago backstory, since it's not really that interesting. The truth is, allowing an enemy spy into your city and between your legs is being a traitor. Her execution is well deserved. Make it Karou who's experiencing it, not Madrigal. Don't give the game away. Revenants, sure, great. Magic is pain, fine. Leave the mystery, evoke the suffering.
I read a lot of reviews that said 'the last 150 pages sealed the deal for me. They took an okay book and made it great.' So I was expecting more. My friends who also read the book for the book club were also stunned by the thinness of the fantasy world. But we are all savvy YA fantasy readers. We don't read YA Contemps and angel books. So yeah, we have high standards. If you're new to the 'two world' genre, then maybe you'll be impressed by Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but I formalized Rule 1 when I was a kid, and Laini Taylor left me cold.
View all my reviews