Thursday, September 29, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things.

When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

When we meet Karou she's walking through Prague, in the snow, on her way to school.  This immediately resonated with me as I had been to Prague earlier this year for my birthday and it had been very cold and snowy.  I snuggled down to read the rest and was so quickly immersed in the story, I forgot where I was.

At school it transpires that Karou is a bit of an enigma to her school friends.  She has blue hair, her art is crazy and she makes up stories about the characters and creatures she draws and everyone probably thinks she's suitably odd and bohemian but what they don't know is that these stories she makes up and the creatures she draws are in fact real.  That although she upholds this facade of being a slightly eccentric human, her life is indeed very odd.  She travels via doorways all over the world to collect teeth (human, animal and other) from various sellers, and brings them back to the creature who raised her who goes by the name of Brimstone.  I say creature as Brimstone is part human, part something other.  A minotaur like creature, he rules over the shadowy home he shares with Issa, who in turn is part human/part snake.  There are other creatures too that exist in Karou's world but right now we just need to know about Brimstone.

As Karou gets asked to visit various places, running these tooth collecting and buying errands for Brimstone, she notices that the doorways she usually uses are being locked against her.  When she comes face to face with an angelic creature who tries to kill her Karou's world tilts on its axis and she has to fight for her life to survive.

Back in Prague things get out of hand and Karou is unable to gain access to the house she grew up in and her life crumbles around her.  To make matters worse, the angelic creature followed her to Prague and is actively stalking her.

Things spin out of control after this and we are swept away in an adventure full of magical realism which I adored.  Laini makes use of various mythologies with a splattering of Judeo-Christian religion thrown in for good measure, and spins this incredible urban fantasy which you can't help but falling for.  It moves from our own contemporary times, back into the past where the storytelling becomes even more high concept and Laini's writing swells into this crescendo of voice and characterisation and superb storytelling.  She plays with archetypes, myths and legends, half-remembered truths and lies and gives us something utterly unique that can only ever be written by someone called Laini Taylor.

Having read a lot of urban fantasy - both "old school" (de Lint, Emma Bull etc) and the newer urban fantasy (Patty Briggs, Kate Griffin, Mike Carey) Laini manages to be a bit of both.  Thinking about DoSaB made me realise that it is a very European novel in the sense that, not only is it set in Prague and other cities in Europe and the Med, it also has this distinct feel of being European, like Carlos Ruiz Zafon's books feel European or the way Guilermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage feels European.  There is a slight bit of discomfort under your skin when you read or watch these movies because even though you know the mythology, and the story beats are familiar, the way it's being presented is different and unusual and you aren't entirely sure what's going to happen next.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone will be on my list of top 12 books for 2011.  It is beautiful, unusual, charming and has such a strong voice, I still think about it months after reading it for the first time.  It's a keeper and a re-reader.

In fact, I was wondering how I could show my love for this book in a visual way... and found this epic picture last night.  Now, you will have to read the book to "get" the in joke, but it is still pretty cool.

And this is the part I'm super excited about:

You can win a copy! I have one completed hardback copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone to give away.   If you're on Twitter, go tell me you want to win this book.  Find me at @LizUK.

If you don't have a twitter account, leave a comment for me here.  I will choose a winner via  and announce it tomorrow morning, Friday 30th September. This is for the UK only, I'm afraid!  The book will be posted out next week after I've had it signed and dedicated to the lucky winner on Monday night by Laini who will be in the UK.  Cool, or WHAT?



Jenni (Juniper's Jungle) said...

Great review, this book sounds like an absolute must read :)

Maria said...

This book sounds so good! The world sounds really interesing and vivid I really really need to get myself a copy - thanks for the great review!

Vivienne said...

What a fabulous review Liz. You made me want to read it again!

Raimy-rawr said...

brilliant review Liz... for a brilliant book. I got mine through the UK Book Tours site so I really need to get myself a copy!