Tuesday, August 6, 2013

CBR V Review #33-34: Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. 
It did not end well.”

This was a much darker series than I anticipated.  I don't know why I expected anything different with titles like those, but somehow it just gets more relentlessly bleak as it goes on.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I will try to avoid spoilers, but since I'm discussing BOTH books here at once, I can't promise anything.  Actually, let's just assume spoilers ahead of time.  SPOILERS.  SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS.  That's way easier.

These books, in the unfinished series by Laini Taylor, are ostensibly about two things: the relationship between a seraphim and a chimaera, and the war between their people.  Everything else revolves around these two things, although we don't know that until almost the end of the first book.

DoS&B is primarily about Karou, a lonely artist with palm tattoos living in Prague who has a very strange side job.  She works for chimaera, creatures of mixed aspect (ie torso and head of a woman, snake from the waist down).  Her job, when she is sent for, is to fetch teeth from clients of the beast that raised her, a chimaera named Brimstone.  Karou knows nothing of her roots - as far as she can remember, she was raised in Brimstone's shop by him and several other chimaera.  She knows nothing of parents or her history which leaves her feeling pretty rootless.  When she's not travelling through portals around the world, using wishes (which in this story come as incrementally as money in our world), she's attending school or hanging out with her friend Zusanna, who is maybe my favorite character of the series.  Zus knows nothing of Karou's other life till much later in the game.

Things get complicated when burned hand prints start showing up on doors to Brimstone's portals, and then Karou wanders somewhere she shouldn't and stumbles on bigger things than she can realize.  Also, an incredibly beautiful seraphim named Akiva, who is connected to Karou, but can't figure out why right away.

When it comes to light that Karou is, in fact, a reincarnated chimaera, everything changes.  She used to be Madrigal, and Akiva had been her very forbidden lover till they were betrayed, and she was beheaded.  Karou then has to live with the blending of these parts of her.  Worse still, Akiva, warped with grief over Madrigal, has done something he cannot undo by successfully destroying the chimaera, who had been at war with the seraphim for generations (which is reasonable, since seraphim used to keep them as slaves).

The second book gets dark in ways I found myself disliking, an oddity coming from a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series.  I think the problem for me was that the first book was so filled with hope (which is a word I use intentionally - Karou means hope in chimaera language and they bring up the concept every thirty seconds in the books).  The second is just so completely, relentlessly bleak, filled with murder and torture and sadness for everyone.  Zusanna and her boyfriend, violinist Mik, were really the only bright spots of the whole thing, and they figure into it in fairly small ways.  I'm concerned about where this is going based on the ending of the second book, where the angels have invaded the human world, and a hated character's body contains the soul of a beloved one.  It's all kind of a mess.

I want to see where this goes, mostly because I want it to end more happily than I've left it at this point.  It's well written, but I can see where it might not resonate with everyone.

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