If I had to pick just one word to describe Laini Taylor’s startlingly original new novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone that word would be: lush.
Lush in every definition of the word – full of sensory detail, a world that you can sink right into and be totally immersed.
If you follow YA lit, you’ve probably heard the buzz around Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Besides the rapturous professional reviews (four starred reviews and counting) it currently has a perfect 5 star “average customer review” on Amazon and 63% perfect 5 star review rate on GoodReads. So, basically, what you’ve been hearing has probably been pretty damn positive.
But I’m here to tell you that whatever you’ve heard about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which was released here in the USA this Tuesday, no matter how glowing and positive it might have been, it just doesn’t do justice to the lush surreality, the almost painful beauty of this book. I’ve never read anything like it, YA fiction or not, and it’s exciting that something this challenging, this haunting, this complicated is being published for young adults.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of Karou, a beautiful, mysterious art student who lives in Prague. Karou has a secret, a secret even she doesn’t fully understand. While she lives in our world, she also has a life in “elsewhere”, a world beyond our sight full of magic Karou doesn’t quite understand. She runs errands, dangerous errands that span the globe, for a chimaera named Brimstone, a creature who raised her and just might know the secrets that Karou longs for, namely who she is. When Karou and Akvia, a beautiful creature with wings, meet and engage in a bloody fight in Marrakesh, it’s the beginning of Karou’s story unfolding and changing in a way she couldn’t predict. Karou is about to discover the truth about the world she thinks she’s always understood and find out who she really is.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a violent, passionate, complicated novel. When I gave to 16 year old Xian, one of my most avid readers and reviewers, I told her, “This one is unlike anything you’ve read before.” She rolled her eyes and smiled. The next day, already in the middle of the book, she came back to tell me, wonder in her voice, “This is like nothing I’ve read before.”
What works best about this book is that sense of wonder, the way Karou and her world spring off the page: full of sensory detail and an ominous, precarious sense of something wrong – something hidden lurking just around the corner. When Taylor unravels the plot of just what’s hidden (and why!) you can’t help but marvel at the brutal perfection of it, to gasp at everything you haven’t known about the story. It’s stunning and shocking and terribly perfect and unfair and wonderful, all at once. It’s the kind of plot reveal that makes you go back and read the whole book over again, so you can revel in the details and spot even more the second time around.
So, yeah, you’re reading another YA book about demons and angels and star-crossed lovers … but with Taylor’s masterful use of form and craft, with all the twists that squeeze your heart until you think it might burst, with every complicated moral question that sends your head spinning, with every passage you want to read out-loud just so you can savor the way the words feel on your tongue: you’ve never read anything like this before.
Since this post is part of the official blog tour for Daughter of Smoke and Bone, now YOU have a chance to win your very own copy! Little & Brown is giving away one finished copy to a US resident. (Thanks, LBYR, you’re the best!) All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog no later than Friday October 7 and I’ll choose one random winner.
If you want more info about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Little & Brown and Laini have an amazing online presence for the book, from book trailers to excerpts and more. Check it out at the following places (the official website is pretty much the best ever):
Laini Taylor Interview
ME: From the beginning, I was struck with what a great feminist text this is! There are such strongly realized the female characters in this book. Karou and Zuzana have a great friendship full of support for each other and Karou, herself, is fully-formed, assertive, curious, and determined. It’s sometimes hard to find such fully realized female friendships and characters in fantasies or paranormal titles. Did you specifically approach writing this relationship and writing Karou with this in mind?
LT: Well, I knew I wanted to have a strong character and that she would be a girl. Before any considerations of theme or ideas, I’m always thinking of story first, and relatability, and wish-fulfillment. I want to write stories that readers will want to climb inside of and live in, characters that people will want to inhabit for a time. I have spent some time trying to figure out what it is that does that, what creates that magic, but I’m not sure I could articulate it. Mainly, I am targeting myself as a reader and hoping that if I write the book that *I* want to live in, that others will too.
Karou has a lot of fantastical qualities. In so many ways, she’s who I wish I could have been as a teenager: talented, resourceful, quirky, unique, mysterious, tough, and oh yeah, beautiful. But she’s also nice, and she’s a little dark, a little sad. She has the same longing to be loved that any girl has, the conflicting impulses: to be strong and independent, but also to seek love and acceptance from possibly undeserving boys. I hope that in spite of her fantasy elements, she has a true emotional core.
Where Zuzana comes into things is, on the one hand, a practical matter. A main character must have someone to talk to, someone to reveal to. Dialogue and interaction are the lifeblood of a book. Zuzana stands in for the reader in discovering Karou’s secrets. But she’s more than a device, of course. She’s a lifeline for Karou.
Having just one good friend can get a person through a terrible time, and Zuzana is Karou’s one good friend. She was so much fun to write. Some characters immediately take over, and she was one of them. And when I go back to her, even to write a tweet for her (@rabidfairy; Karou is @bluekarou) she comes back instantly. It makes me love her, she feels so real and immediate to me.
LT: Ha ha! I did originally imagine this book looking like Karou’s sketchbook, embellished with some of the art that’s mentioned in the text. I think that would be amazing, but I do also think there’s a lot to be said for leaving the visualizing entirely up to the reader. I’m always so bummed when a cover image depicts a character in a way I don’t agree with. It can affect the reading experience profoundly. So I was happy that the cover is obscure. As for interior art, it would be so fun to work with Jim to create some of Karou’s sketchbook some day, in some capacity.
ME: Without giving away too many spoilers, it’s safe to say chimaeras are a big part of this story! I was struck with what a resonant metaphor this is for adolescence, which not only makes the plot stronger but really makes this story especially relevant and interesting to teen readers. Did you think about those connections while you were writing? Was there something in particular that drew you to writing about chimaeras?
LT: Hm. I think you’d have to tell me what you mean about the adolescence metaphor. It wasn’t conscious. I don’t tend to think of those things consciously while writing, but I am always fascinated to find them “in the lint trap” after the fact! I learn a lot about myself by what sorts of themes recur in my writing.
They’re visually intriguing, they’re not vampires or werewolves (not that I don’t love vampires or werewolves), and they stand in well for “devils.” I have a fascination for world folklore, and I love playing with the notion that it could be based on real sightings. This has cropped up in my other books too. In my Dreamdark books, djinn feature prominently, but they aren’t what humans think they are. The idea is that humans see just enough to get the story all wrong. In the case of chimaera, sightings throughout history could conceivably account for all devil and monster lore—even gods and goddesses. Issa’s tribe, the Naja, could have been the inspiration for serpent goddesses that are fairly prevalent in mythology.
And because they defy our standards of beauty, chimaera would naturally be classed as evil, while beautiful angels would be presumed good and godly.
But really, everything in the book is an outgrowth of one freewrite. Giving myself permission to write anything at all just for fun, what emerged was a scene in which a blue-haired teenage girl argued with her monstrous father figure. Brimstone came into being that day, ram horns and all, and all the chimaera grew from him.
Thank you, Laini for such amazing answers! (and yes, the chimaera are a great metaphor for adolescence: Who am I? How can I feel like so many things at once? Why do I sometimes feel monstrous and sometimes feel beautiful, why am I a little bit of both all at the same time? Good stuff!)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is highly recommended as a first purchase for all public and school libraries – it has HUGE appeal for a wide swath of readers: those looking for a new fantasy series to fall in love with, those who want something different than the same book they’ve read a hundred times, those who want to challenge themselves, and those who just love a good, old-fashioned, heart-stopping, star-crossed lovers love story. This book will fly off your shelves and start discussion with your teens. And, of course, it will leave you in agony for the next volume in the series. As for me, I’m already counting down and, believe me, the minute you turn the last page … you will be too.