I’m not going to lie to you, I received this book after my mum heard about it on the radio, noted down the title and author and gave it to one of my aunties for a Christmas present. However, I was pleasantly surprised and I really actually like this book. I’ve never heard of Laini Taylor before, but she has a completely original premise, a well thought out and complex back story, relatable and convincing characters and a wonderful style of writing.
To summarize; Karou would be just a typical teenager, going to art school in Prague and getting over her dipshit of an ex, but the problem with that is all the fantastical half-animal characters in her sketchbooks are real, and as close to family as Karou will ever get. Brimstone, her human torso-lion legs-lizard feet-bull head-crocodile eyes father figure deals in teeth, for wishes like a monstrous tooth fairy. Karou has to balance her life in Prague with Brimstone’s shop, and of course there are secrets kept from Karou which are pretty important.
The story is wonderfully executed, and although the lack of information about Karou’s world is frustrating for the first thirty pages or so, tantalizingly hinting about some otherness to Karou. I’m a sucker for a turn of phrase, and this book is poetically written, with some fabulous lines- I think my favourite is the extended metaphor of growing new butterflies in the stomach after they were killed by heartbreak and betrayal. The setting of Prague for the majority of the story gives the book an otherworldliness even without all the magical creatures and wishes, achieved through some stunning description and tiny details about the history and culture. The dialogue is witty and clever, although I would have liked some more time with Karou juggling her two lives before all the shit went down- I wanted to know more about her life in Prague and with Brimstone, in order for the sudden upheaval of her life even more shocking for the readers. Instead, the strangeness of Brimstone’s requests are explicitly stated as wrong by Karou, and seeing as most of the backstory is given in snippets or flashbacks, it jarred slightly. However, no amount of criticism can detract from the fact it is a engaging story with fantastic characters.
Karou is our protagonist, and she is pretty awesome. Trained in self defence, covered in tattoos and with azure hair which she wished that colour, she is my favourite kind of heroine: an active character who rarely relies on others, but is strong enough to admit when she needs help. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone her entire world is turned upside down. Brimstone starts sending Karou out on errands more frequently as his teeth supply dwindles (which involves her dragging two illegal elephant tusks on the Paris Metro) and she encounters an angel while on another mission who closes all the door all over the world to Brimstone’s shop. So what does Karou do? She carries on at school while trying to find a way to get back to the only family she has ever known. And finds love on the way. I don’t want to give too much away, but the twists and turns and finally revealing what Brimstone needs the teeth for is a fantastic unravelling of the plot and Karou’s own history.
Karou’s best friend in Prague is the tiny and violent Zuzana, a trainee puppeteer with a great sense of humour and loyalty. She’s a comedic value character who is also very developed, and her scenes with Karou are some of my favourite (butterfly scene again!). Then there is also the angel, Akiva, who is unearthly beautiful (basically the only typical YA character trope but he is an angel) and of course he has a tormented past, which is also slowly revealed through flashbacks.
Overall, I think the biggest thing wrong with this story is that I don’t have the sequel because man what a cliffhanger! It’s a wonderfully original story with captivating characters, a great plot, and it doesn’t fall into too many of the pitfalls of YA literature. Our main character is decisive and fabulously mean sometimes, and is backed up by a whole host of well developed side characters. Well worth a read.