Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Laini Taylor

Category: Fantasy, Young Adult
Morality: C
Writing: A+

Okay. I will be honest. This is a paranormal/fantasy romance. It has pounding hearts, love-at-first-sight, and you-are-my-soul passion. It is ridiculously melodramatic. And I loved it. Now, this may have been partly because certain elements in the story and the characters seem pretty much tailored to my personal tastes and designed to win me over. But I think it was in large part due to the absolutely amazing writing. The book is gorgeously written. Taylor not only has created a world that is utterly believable, utterly real, but she also made me, as reader, completely buy into the characters’ paranormally powerful mutual attraction. (NOT an easy feat, believe me!)

Taylor’s prose is as graceful, gothic, and gorgeous as the streets of Prague on which her story opens, but just as significant is her skill in developing the story, as she introduces tensions and mysteries, develops them masterfully, and creates resolutions that feel both startling and inevitable. I don’t want to give away anything of the plot by describing details here, because part of the book’s charm is the gradual revelation of its central mysteries, as it moves seamlessly from street-scene vibe to high-fantasy drama. The whole structure is immensely satisfying. The worldbuilding, too, is entirely effective, evoking a variety of locales both real and fantastical often with only a few well-chosen details. And upholding all the melodrama, the Romeo-and-Julietness, the love-as-strong-as-death emo-intensity, there’s the masterfully crafted prose. The story had won me over long before I even realized how awesome the melodrama was.

I would be remiss not to mention the book’s central conceit here; the “in a world where” setting draws somewhat from urban/paranormal fantasy tropes, and includes an ancient, cosmic battle between angelic seraphim and demon-like chimaera. However, it quickly becomes clear in the story that these beings are not remotely related to the Christian concepts of angels and demons. Though they are opposed, their power struggle has nothing to do with moral right and wrong, and there is no God-like figure in the story. Once I realized this, I actually became much more comfortable with the book’s use of the angels/demons trope, since it was so entirely fantastical; there’s no connection to real-life spiritual conflict, and the author does not appear to have an anti-Christianity axe to grind.

Of course, one could still argue (as I actually do believe) that the romantic soulmates/you-complete-me trope is morally problematic. And the implied extra-marital sex is certainly an issue. However, considering how many YA books are out there wherein the author goes out of her way to emphasize that Sex Is Cool, But Tough Girls Don’t Need Marriage, it could have been a lot worse. The book calls out for a sequel, so as it is there is no resolution to the story’s central conflict, but the author emphasizes hope even in the midst of much darkness and sorrow; in spite of all the drama, the story certainly lacks the gloom of many popular recent YA books. Essentially, the book is escapist fiction, yes, but beautifully crafted escapist fiction!

Oh yes, and that sequel? I’m preordering it.

Content warning: There is some sexual content, most of it references in dialogue.

Posted by Sasha | April 11, 2012

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