Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.
When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?*
Laini Taylor has been one of my favorite authors ever since I picked up Blackbringer back in 2008 along with The Hunger Games. I'm not sure what exactly goes on in her head that produces all the amazingly creative worlds and creatures it does, but whatever it is, it must run on cactus juice. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is just as imaginative as Taylor's previous efforts. It's filled with jackal teeth, ultramarine hair and barred cities. It's received so many rave reviews that I honestly felt no doubt that it would spectacular. This is, after all, Laini Taylor.
So in fact, when I read the first page and felt more critical than I did off-the-walls excited, I didn't think anything of it. But as I finished the second chapter, I wondered if it was just me. If something had happened between reading Lips Touch and picking up this that had me somehow immune to all the sparkle and dazzle Daughter of Smoke and Bone had given everyone else. By the time I had reached the halfway point, I realized it was not me. The book simply felt utterly unedited.
I'm no stranger to backstories being placed between paragraphs or short explanations when necessary. Fantasy requires that, especially when it's a world and mythology you created from a skeleton. However, the entire second half of the book was backstory. I'm not exaggerating. Upon fighting Akiva, the entire plot of the story goes down the drain. The last half of the book is from an unnecessary point of view. It simply relates everything that Akiva has already given us in tantalizing glimpses and snatches. This isn't the only time it happens, though.
The constant back and forth between perspectives starts up around the fifth or sixth chapter and doesn't let up. I understand the book is written in third person omniscient and I don't object to perspective flipping when it's necessary, but that's the point. None of it is necessary. For example, there's an entire chapter in Karou's ex-boyfriend's POV and the next one is in Karou's repeating identical information, right down to the thisguyisgorgeousbutirefusetoadmitit. This happens multiple times. Why the editor chose not to cut this out, I do not know. The book could have been cut to half of its size and nothing would be lost on us.
One major problem I had with the first half was the repetitive use of the word Slavic and cream in regard to Karou's skin. Now, I have no problem with a narrator pointing out that she has white skin, but I do have a problem with an omniscient narrator repeating the beauty that is Karou's cream white skin and dark Slavic eyes, as if they're the most beautiful thing in the world. An omniscient narrator should be objective. I got a bad taste in my mouth with Karou herself constantly drawing that the most beautiful person she knew pre-Akiva had Slavic cheekbones. When we read the narrator commenting, on the other hand, on Akiva's skin, it's "golden", sadly ambiguous and only mentioned once and never again despite the awe-inspiring, angelic beauty of this person. I understand he's inhuman. I get that. But it doesn't make any sense that there is only one absolute POC in this book, and he's only of mixed descent where his only marker of ethnicity is his "knife-blade eyes" and doesn't get characterization outside of being Zuzanna's soft spoken, violinist boyfriend.
The plot devices going on around Karou herself are quite frustrating. While I absolutely ad-ore that she gets hurt, needs time to recover even though she isn't human, everything just seem to fall right into her lap. She has a freaking chain of tiny wishes, for heaven's sake, you say! Zuzanna's just like any other friend who would check up on another after running out on her, you say! Well, I say that that's all too unsatisfying. Where's the narrative tension when we know everything will work out fine for Karou? Her benefactors disappear? It's all good. At seventeen years old, she can access bank accounts that's she never been heard of before. She is now obscenely rich, able to travel the world in search of grody hunters, buy awesomely cool weapons at first asking price, and vintage turn-of-the-century ballet costumes. She also lacked flaws. I don't consider giving into your anger over your boyfriend cheating on you as a flaw, or that you're as hedonistic as everyone else on the planet. This disappointed more than anything as the book wore on. Karou really seemed like another me. Sketchbook ninety three! It's like she had been Taylor-made for me (bad pun, I know!), but sadly, she and I just didn't connect.
(When she said that these crescent moons were the best weapons there are against offensive weapons, I raised an eyebrow because they might be defensively, but you'd only know that if you had trained with them against someone with an offensive weapon. If those are the weapons you want to use to kill, well, good luck if you stab someone and the hook comes out before the rest of the balde and you end up having to tear through organ and bone and flesh while someone knocks your head off with the long-range harpoon you said was useless against you.)
And then there's Akiva. While I try not to judge other beings by human standards, I just find it amazing that Akiva managed to be so ridiculously perfect. He was quite literally the perfect boyfriend, and honestly? I'd rather have Mik than Akiva. Perfection is overrated and boring. I wanted to see more of his bred prejudice in action, rather him being struck silently by beauty.
Women that aren't Karou and aren't in support of her every will are treated quite badly, and that was another thing that rubbed off wrong on me. At first, I could understand why Karou would, in a fit of jealousy, use a wish on the girl her ex cheated with. Later on, however, when they were put together and the girl was made to act ridiculously stupid in comparison to Karou, I realized that we weren't meant to see her as just another girl, but as The Other Woman. The only other female in the book was also held as shallow and foolish for doing the exact same thing as Karou, betraying her friends for the person she was in love with. That left the worst taste in my mouth ever, as Karou continued to shame her even after the woman tried to apologize. We weren't even supposed to sympathize that she had made a mistake, which I did regardless.
Even with all these turn-offs, I still wasn't able to not like the book. It's Laini Taylor after all. It sucked me in, and I only really paused when something thoroughly felt wrong like the girl-hating and perfect nature of Akiva and Karou. Toward the end, however, as the plot disappeared into more and more backstory, I started to skim. The ending confirmed my previous suspicions, but it didn't stop me from wanting to read the next book. If I had gone into it thinking it was a fairytale and meant to be enjoyed that way, maybe all these things wouldn't have bothered me so much.
*Summary and image from Goodreads.