Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

June 19, 2014

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
by Laini Taylor
I listened to the Audiobook read by Khristine Hvam
YA Fantasy. You might like this book if you like emotion-filled romances and stories about the search for the self.

This was a great listen. Beautiful language delivered by an excellent narrator kept me engaged in this tale of love, mystery, heartbreak and hope.

It tells the story of the girl Karou. She has blue hair and draws monsters. No big deal. That could describe a lot of 17-year old art students in Prague, right? Except Karou's monsters aren't imaginary, they are real and she knows them personally. Her hair isn't dyed, she wished it blue. Ah, a question arises in the reader's mind. Is she a magical being? Is she? Eventually we learn that she spends her life between worlds, feeling faintly like she's supposed to be somewhere else.

As the story unfolds she learns where the somewhere else is and who the main character is in that part of her life, and we realize it's a love story. Or a lust story, but in modern literature, it is largely forgotten that the two are not interchangeable. I'm referring to the part in which a month of hidden, forbidden nightly sex after two prior meetings is the ostensible foundation for a love so strong it will reach across worlds and time and space and all that jazz. As in so many stories, the "connection" is the thing.

It's my pet peeve. As the mother of former and current teenagers who are bombarded almost every minute by the current worldview of sex, I'm sensitive. This author is writing for her audience and according to a nearly universally accepted set of mores, and probably based on her experience. In one exposition,  the narrator establishes the fact that the culture in which this first rush of love is happening has few constraints when it comes to sex, which I thought was interesting. The point is that I don't blame the author or think she's awful or that the story should be dismissed. It's just my personal red flag in YA fiction. The telling of the initial romance also has all the beautiful elements of first love: sweetness and wonder and a feeling of belonging, and I get that. I just feel sad that the next step after those sweet, worthwhile feelings is to immediately have sex rather than have real experiences together and grow a real love. It's what I thought while listening and maybe you'll want to know that before you let a child you love read it. But it will give you things to talk about with that child, and since we all have to live in the real world, it's not horrible to have some fantasy to help us cope. I will say that there are no graphic descriptions of sex, and I appreciated that. And there is some regret for a loss of innocence. And in another time and place the tale is told of Karou and her love talking and spending time together. I liked that a lot.

If that ideological bit doesn't bother you, and it very well might not, then just lose yourself and enjoy, because it is a truly poetic narrative of Karou's loneliness, longing and discovery of who she really is and how she got to this moment, and that is a theme worth exploring. I was completely caught up in the author's beautifully imagined settings and characters. I found myself skipping back to listen to passages again because of the gorgeous richness of the words as they came together. Nicely done, Ms. Taylor.

There isn't an ending. You should know that. It's the beginning of a series, but luckily, if you're just getting started, you don't have to wait. There are two other books already published so you can dive right in. I am looking forward to experiencing more of Ms. Taylor's colorful world as brought to life by Ms. Hvam.

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