About a month ago I picked up Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It had been on my to-read list for a while, and I was immediately drawn to this blue-haired girl (yes, it comes out of her head that way) whose mentor trades wishes for teeth. I devoured the book within a day and immediately picked up the second one. This one, I confess, did not hold my attention nearly so well. I got about a hundred pages in before abandoning it, though when I picked it up again last weekend I quickly finished it and sunk my teeth into book 3. In spite of the shaky start to book 2, overall I really loved this series and would heartily recommend it.
One of my favourite things about this series is that the angels are the villains, their empire run by a corrupt ruler who seeks to annihilate another species. Equally so, I love that it’s not that black-and-white. One of the main antagonists of the second book is a chimaera (the beings with animal features, like sphinxes and centaurs and many other human-and-animal configurations), while some of the protagonists are seraphs. Even these are not immutable; Thiago, the chimaera, is trying to lead his people to victory in a thousand-year-long war, while all but one of the seraphs began the series wishing to exterminate the chimaera, having been brought up for that purpose since the cradle. It’s a story not just of finding peace with others, but with oneself.
The weakest part of this series was the pacing. It’s the reason it took me so long to really get into the second book; Karou, the protagonist who featured so prominently in book 1, rarely appears in the early chapters of book 2 (this is, thankfully, rectified). I also found the endings a bit disappointing. Both of the first two books had the kind of ending that would make me Very Annoyed if I’d read the books when they first came out and had to wait to find out what happened, as neither felt at all like an ending, but like a midway point. I realise that in most series, the books will end on a note that suggests more is coming, but there is generally more closure than these books had. It was like the end of Catching Fire when Katniss asks about her home and Gale tells her “District Twelve is gone” – aaaaaaand the book ends. I HATE that.
The third book as well suffered from a bit of ending fatigue. Around a hundred pages from the end, a major climactic event occurred, and the book headed into dénouement territory. As the last pages neared, the ‘real’ climax happened, like the Scouring of the Shire is the real climax of The Lord of the Rings, long after the destruction of the One Ring, but I found it rather unsatisfying. For one thing, it was the climax to what had been a subplot (though one with far-greater consequences and reach than the main storyline), with the major plotline, the war, having already been resolved. For another, it really felt like there would be more to the series, because this didn’t feel so much like an ending as a beginning of a new and greater conflict than the one just ended. It was as though George R. R. Martin were to end A Song of Ice and Fire with the people of Westeros finding out about the Others and preparing to fight them.
In spite of the pacing issues, I did really enjoy this series. Taylor masterfully intertwines conflict in a secondary world with primary world religion, switching between the standards of urban fantasy and high fantasy with ease. Unusually for either genre, there are two characters, Zuzana and Mik, who end up involved in the story even though they have no link to the supernatural world in any way besides their love for Karou; neither has any magical abilities nor a supernatural boyfriend. However they, and Karou, help to link the two worlds and their fates together by being citizens of one world and intimately concerned with the other.
Overall, I LOVED Daughter of Smoke and Bone, found Days of Blood and Starlight largely enjoyable once I got into it, and adored Dreams of Gods and Monsters.