Sunday, November 18, 2012

daughter of smoke and bone

Book: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I've tried to leave the review spoiler-free as best I can, but most will probably see through it anyway, so be warned. Blurb copied because I'm too lazy to recap:

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
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.

I wish I liked this book better. I'd previously read the author's anthology Lips Touch: Three Times, and fell in love with her prose there. When I read the blurb for this one, I was immediately hooked. The author's ideas and premises were intriguing and original in Lips Touch, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone promised just the same. Spurred on by all the positive reviews, I went into this expecting a 4 or 5-star read. And in some ways, it delivered - lovely turns of phrases, fascinating world. Unfortunately, the bland characterizations, lackluster romance, and plodding second half diminished my enjoyment so much I found it a chore to finish the book - and no read like that can ever be a good one. 

Now where do I start? Likely the biggest problem for me was the romance. I am first and foremost a reader of romance novels, so I believe my threshold for cheese is quite high - which is why I think it's saying something that the romance here was just too cheesy for me. Furthermore, from the point where Karou and Akiva stopped being hostile to each other, each scene they had together was ridiculously awkward.

Not sexy, not touching, not sweet, just awkward. Combine that awkwardness together with the cheese factor, and they just don't jive. I wished Karou had stayed hostile to him; that might have been fodder for more interesting dialogue. Given that almost the entire second half of the book relives their past romance, reading it was almost excruciating.

What else went wrong for me? Just about the entire second half of the book. Maybe the author's decision to reenact their past would've worked much better had I actually enjoyed reading about them together. Or maybe even if there had been some suspense element to it. Suspense was why the first half worked so well, because I was just so curious, as curious as Karou was about what exactly the hell was going on. But by the time Akiva had stuck around for a while it was pretty damned obvious what exactly had happened.

Which meant I was reading about something that could not hold my interest in any way, not about how they got together, not about what happened, which anyone with half a brain could guess. The only real twist was at the very end after the crazy long flashback, and it didn't quite make up for the drivel I had to endure to get to it.

This brings me to the characterizations. Another thing that might have saved my reading experience with the second half was the character of Madrigal, since she represented a change of narrator. Unfortunately, Madrigal is one of the most boring characters I have ever read about, with little nuance and complexity to her. She is practically a Julie Garwood heroine, without the happy ending. (Disclaimer: I loved Julie Garwood in my younger teens, but can't stand reading her now). In fact, most of the characters in this book are stock, as if they only serve to people the world, the author being more interested in the latter.

Karou's family, the people closest to her in her entire life, have little to distinguish them from each other other than the archetypal motherly/strong, silent type descriptions. The villains are just portrayed as weak from envy and shallowness, never mind that Madrigal has been beautiful all her life and thus free from the temptation of these lesser emotions. On the plus side, I liked how the women in the book are allowed to have sexual desires, and not just for the hero.

In Lips Touch, the stories were short, and some almost fairy-tale-like, which probably explains how the world and ideas alone could make up for the forgettable characterizations. Such a lack will not go unnoticed in a full-length-novel-going-on-trilogy, especially if such a big part of the book revolves around the lovers' relationship and interactions.

3/5 on goodreads. This might seem like an overwhelmingly negative review for a book that I technically rated positively, but it was because I really did find the negatives to outweigh the positive, and me giving it the extra stars is really just frivolous inclinations on my part. (Like liking the heroine having blue hair and tattoos and living in Prague and being all badass in her quest for flight - for her, I might give the subsequent books in the trilogy a try).

In any event, I'm clearly in the minority about this book. Loads of people have loved it, including review blogs that I follow and whose opinions I respect, so odds are you're more likely to love it than hate it. The second in the trilogy was recently released as well, can have a look at it here: Days of Blood and Starlight 

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