Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I know, I know. My forays into recent YA fantasy have been mostly devastating (with the exception of Patrick Ness, who is awesome) and it seems that I keep falling for the same kind of hype. But Laini Taylor has been praised not only by voracious YA readers but by pretty much everyone, and I feel reluctant writing off a new (to me) writer just because the hype seems insincere (again). You know the feeling, right?

daughter of smoke and boneDAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE
by Laini Taylor

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN: 0316192147
ebook: 391 pages
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1

My rating: 2,5/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.
When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

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Oh boy… it is at times like these that I am grateful I don’t have a lot of followers. Or at least not the kind of followers who will rip me apart for disliking a beloved book. Let’s do this! Karou is a young girl who goes to an art school in Prague. What her quirky best friend Zuzana doesn’t know is that Karou leads a second life. A life of running errands for the only family she has – a group of chimaera, monsters if you will, with bodies that are part human and part animal. Karou knows almost nothing about the chimaera or their magic which makes for a great premise and immediately drew me into the story. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t really focus on these interesting bits enough. Instead, she has other things in mind. Let me explain with this quote:

Karou was, simply, lovely. Creamy and leggy, with long azure hair and the eyes of a silent-movie star, she moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx. Beyond merely pretty, her face was vibrantly alive, her gaze always sparkling and luminous, and she had a birdlike way of cocking her head, her lips pressed together while her dark eyes danced, that hinted at secrets and mysteries.

This is worrying for two reasons. One, nobody is that perfect. Personally, I like my heroines flawed – physically as well as otherwise – and except for photoshopped supermodels, I have never seen a woman who could be described like this. I only quoted this one part, because it shows just how über-perfect Karou is and how clunky the language in which she is described. But there are numerous occasions on which Karou’s perfection is highlighted. Her ballet-dancer figure, her shiny hair. Every single girl and woman I know has in some way suffered because she didn’t fit the current beauty ideal. Having struggled with my own weight and a pimply face for quite a few years, I find it much easier to sympathise with protagonists who are in some way like me. Give her too bushy eyebrows, a potato nose, crooked front teeth – something to make her more realistic. I should also mention, that everyobdy in this book is of otherworldy beauty. I’ll grant that some of these characters actually are supernatural and I’ll forgive them their perfection, but with everybody being beautiful, the word just lost its meaning.

The second reason this paragraph struck me as awful was that this is a third person limited narrative. Meaning, we see and know only what Karou sees and knows. That is essential to the plot, because for the most part of the story, she is rather clueless. Then I read this paragraph and wonder how full of oneself a person has to be to describe herself in such a manner. Had another viewpoint character spotted her and thought these things, everything would be peachy, it would be his perception of her. The way it was done? Not ok. On a sidenote, the other viewpoint character does see her and describes her in equally flowery, cheesy language. So there you go.

Having gotten the author’s obsession with physical beauty out of the way, there were other things that rubbed me the wrong way.  As the story progresses, Karou stops thinking about her love life and starts thinking more about survival. But there is a clear line between her adventures concerning the chimaera world and Karou’s real world life. The latter never offers more than conversations about boys, idiotic stereotypical girl characters and – you guessed it – more talk about how beautiful everybody is. This became worse and worse, especially when the male romantic lead shows up. It was at that point that the writing took a terrible spin for wanna-be-poetic, but ended up being clunky and, a lot of times, illogical.

[…]when I saw her smile I wondered what it would be like to make her smile. I thought… I thought it would be like the discovery of smiling.

Apart from strange and not very elegant sentences like the one above, there are tons of continuity and logical mistakes in this book. Remember, this is third person limited. However, when we switch between the two protagonists, Akiva knows things that Karou only thought to herself in the last chapter, never said out loud. He has information that he couldn’t possibly have – unless he’s also a mind-reader. Frequently, you will find moments of head-jumping in the middle of a chapter. Generally, that’s ok. It is the inconsistency that bothered me. The author couldn’t make up her mind whether to use a third person limited or third person omniscient perspective. The fact that you never know what you’ll get in a given chapter is massively annoying.

But speaking of Akiva… oh boy. If you’re a Twilight fan, you will probably find him cute and strong and protective and whatnot, but let’s face it. He is 50 years old. He stalks Karou, watches her sleep, and – without warning, by the way – falls in love with her. Well, the only “warning” we get is that Karou is beautiful. That’s enough, right? Apart from being a creepy, old stalker who falls in love with a girl who could be his dauther, this felt wrong to me on so many levels. If at least there had been an actual romance, a getting to know each other and slowly falling in love, maybe (though probalby not) I wouldn’t feel so strongly about this. But it’s insta-love. And just because it is insta-love on second sight doesn’t change that fact. Karou is also most taken with Akiva’s beauty. At least people are equally shallow in this story – men are worthless if they don’t look pretty just the same way women are.
The bottom line is: A 17-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man fall in love because of how pretty they are. I am disgusted.

At pretty much the exact point the “romance” starts, Laini Taylor apparently decided to entirely drop all plot. Everything that we get to read in the second half of the book is how two impossibly beautiful people are in love after only a few minutes together. The last third was definitely the worst, though. Not only because the prose reaches levels of cheesiness that I thought were impossible but because the story is interrupted for flashbacks. Flashbacks that tell us – in minute and achingly boring detail – things we already know! In somewhat decent foreshadowing, we were given all the information we needed. But it seems that we get the prequel included in this first of a trilogy. Needless to say, it slowed down what was already a very loose plot to a standstill.

Let me mention the few things that were done well. In the first half of the book (this is vital, the second half is pure torture), the story was actually quite immersive, and hard to put down. It promised to show us a world of wonder, a world filled with monsters and dark magic – all of which was unceremoniously dropped for a lame romance between a child and an oldish man and for flashbacks with more gorgeous people telling each other how perfect they are.

Another thing I liked (again, only in the beginning) was Taylor’s sense of humor. Zuzana, who was mostly there for comic relief, always had something funny to say. Even Brimstone came up with the occasional chuckle-worthy sentence.

I don’t know many rules to live by,” he said. “But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles – drug or tattoo – and… no inessential penises, either.”

I could rant much more because this could have been a great book. If somebody had dared to tell the author to stay on track with the plot and to tune down the descriptions of beauty and flowery language a bit, it could have worked. This way, the book was just horrible. A fresh idea wasted on somebody who lacked either the will or help to execute it well.

THE GOOD: A great idea and a thrilling beginning.
THE BAD: Every character is of unnatural beauty, the language is clunky, there are logical mistakes galore, the romance is revolting, the plot gets dropped mid-book. Plus, cliffhanger (for those who care what happens).
THE VERDICT: Not recommended. Dear YA authors. Not every story needs a forced romance, especially between an old man and a teenage girl. Age is not just about how old you look, it is about experience and maturity. This was a pretty terrible book.

RATING: 2,5/10 – Terrible

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12 thoughts on “Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

  1. kamo says:

    ‘Creamy and Leggy’ eh? I think I’ve seen that movie. It too had considerably older men having ‘relationships’ with teenage girls. At least it said they were teens on the cover…

    YA? Meh. I consider myself pretty strongly to the Left of centre – people like what they like and as long as it’s not impinging on anyone else good luck to them – but I’ve yet to meet a YA protagonist that didn’t make me wholeheartedly support the reintroduction National Service.

    Kids books, now kids books I can actually go for. They know their niche and don’t try to be what they’re not. But I’m not a young adult any more, and I often find myself wondering why people who are supposed to be proper grown-ups seem to read so much of this stuff.

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    • Nadine says:

      I know what you mean. I don’t have a problem with adults reading YA fiction. Personally, reading exclusively YA would drive me crazy pretty quickly but there are some really good books out there – the Flora Segunda trilogy was wonderful, and I would hate to have missed it.

      But I also find that children’s books manage to avoid terrible clichés and bad writing much better than current YA publications. I mostly get pissed at reviewers who like EVERYTHING they read. And even if they say a book was only ok or they disliked things about it, they still give it 5 out of 5 stars!? No wonder such crappy books are surrounded by an unecessary and undeserved hype.

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  2. Llyren says:

    Ouch. Okay, at least now I know I can drop that book from my wish list (or at least my keep-an-eye-on-it-list). I’m already quite careful about YA-books at the moment. At times I have the impression they merely try to fabricate something like a story around the cheesy, cheap romance they actually want to tell.
    But since I had read only excited and enthusiastic opinions about “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” up to now, I probably might have given it a try. Until you mentioned a number of no-goes in narration: viewpoint-jumping for one. I hate it when authors start out in a limited perspective and then just switch from one sentence to another into another head. That’s nearly always badly done and in most cases simply laziness.
    And what you wrote about the characters (sparkling gaze?!) and the romance… Thank you but no, thank you.

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    • Nadine says:

      It is really an example for bad writing. And the sad thing is I think the author had great ideas and just got lost around the middle.
      I also forgot to mention that at that middle bit, the story stops and all we get for the rest is flashbacks. Then this book ends in a cliffhanger. With a scene that should have happened around the middle part… Only when I reached that “ending”, I didn’t care anymore. I guess if you need some quick cheesy romance, it’s still readable. But if you dislike the same things I do, then save your money. 🙂

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      • real omni fan. says:

        Yet it still got published. I started reading it but the lack of control over POV drove me crazy. Guess most people don’t care though.

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  3. Katha says:

    Ohweh, wie schade :/ Bisher kannte ich eigentlich nur begeisterte Meinungen, daher liegt das Buch auch schon auf meinem SUB. Naja, dann werde ich wohl zumindest meine Erwartungen etwas herunterschrauben 😉

    Und das “smile”-Zitat ist irgendwie…sehr seltsam oO

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    • Nadine says:

      Gut, dass nicht nur ich das denke. Ich habe den Sitz sicher dreimal gelesen und dann kopfschüttelnd aufgegeben.
      Übrigens könnte ich mir vorstellen, dass der zweite Band besser wird – nach dem Cliffhanger von Band 1 muss es theoretisch spannend weitergehen. Nur hab ich einfach keine Lust, über so perfekte Menschen zu lesen, die nie für irgendetwas arbeiten müssen, denen alles irgendwie in den Schoß fällt (Ich sag nur Karous Sprachkenntnisse).

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  4. lest-she-may says:

    Hi there, Nadine! I read this book and its sequel recently as well, and I absolutely loved it, mostly because of the style of the prose. That’s not what I wanted to address, though, so let me go through things systematically:

    1) INSTA-ROMANCE. I know what we all think of insta-romance. I myself thought it was one of the weaker points of the book, but not unforgivable, especially considering the way it served as a plot device to open up the book to larger themes such as war and peace and revenge. It’s hard to see most of this in the first book, as the majority of the development happens in the second book, Days of Blood and Starlight, but I certainly thought it was worth reading despite this flaw.

    2) PERFECTION & BEAUTY. I’m going to have to agree with you on this one – many of the physical attributes of characters are simply too perfect to be true. I liked her descriptions because they were beautiful, but again – it’s unrealistic and purely aesthetic to make everyone so pretty. It also confused me a bit reading the passage you quoted about Karou, since it is supposed to be from her perspective, after all. However, in my case the shifts weren’t as noticeable, which leads me to –

    3) PERSPECTIVE. I didn’t notice the changes in perspective quite as much. It didn’t bother me that she switched without much rhyme or reason, either; I know from experience that it’s often too constrictive to give yourself an outline of who must narrate when. Many people aren’t a fan of head-hopping, but many people aren’t a fan of limiting narratives by forcing your writing into a mold, either. I think mostly it’s just a matter of taste.

    4) FANDOM. Since I’m on Tumblr far more often than WordPress, I noticed a quote of yours at the end of a review that sparked quite a bit of anger in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone fan community. Namely, much of the fandom feels insulted by “you may leave your outrage at my hatred for Laini Taylor’s book in the comment section there ;)” because it puts us in the same class as fangirls (like those of Twilight!) who can’t take a bit of criticism. Well, you’re only partially right in that respect – we’re generally an intelligent and welcoming bunch. In following with the Tumblr custom, though, the DoSaB fandom tend to make a big deal out of criticisms, thus your remarks are likely to be blown completely out of proportion. In our defense, we have had well thought out discussions on the shortcomings of the book and where it could be improved. In your defense, we are not the best at accepting outside opinions. I’m trying to stay open-minded, and I see that you also have good intentions both for your readers and for the YA genre as a whole, but they will not be well-received on Tumblr. So on behalf of the fandom, I’ll ask you not to tag your reviews with ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ or ‘Laini Taylor’ if you put in possibly inflammatory remarks. It is generally construed as ‘hate’ and will garner much anger on your end, as well as make you highly unpopular with the most active fans of DoSaB fandom on Tumblr. Yes, I am aware that you are entitled to your opinion, but it is neither wise nor recommended to share it with people who will only attack you for it.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I’m sorry we’re such a fiery bunch.

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    • Nadine says:

      Hello and thank you for that big and insightful comment.

      Let me adress the big issue first. I never thought my comment was inflammatory. It was meant in a humorous way and I am sorry if my assumption that people would understand it as such was wrong. I have no problem with fandom – even twilight fans are allowed to love their books. If the Daughter of Smoke and Bone fancrowd on tumblr misunderstands any bit of humor and decides to take it as inflammatory, then I actually feel justified in using those words. However, if other people read this: I did not mean to look down on your fandom. I did, however, know that this review wouldn’t garner much love from the Laini Taylor fanbase (and that’s ok).

      As for the issues with the book: I see what you mean with the insta-love. There IS a sort of explanation which would get us into spoiler territory. But even a supernatural reason for their insta-love doesn’t make it any more interesting to read about.

      Sure, certain things are a matter of taste. Others are just bad writing. Maybe I’m just too old for books like this?

      Thanks again for your wonderfull comment and there is absolutely no need to be sorry for your passion about books!

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    • Nadine says:

      Okay, I need to say something here.
      you wrote: “So on behalf of the fandom, I’ll ask you not to tag your reviews with ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ or ‘Laini Taylor’ if you put in possibly inflammatory remarks.”

      You speak “on behalf of fandom” – I suppose you mean your tumblr friends etc. If they elected you their leader, that’s ok. Your comment was friendly and reasonable and comments like that are always welcome. Hell, even unfriendly comments are welcome.

      BUT you can’t really tell people where they can post their thoughts. Welcome to the internet. My post was about a Laini Taylor book so I tagged it “Laini Taylor”. If you only want positive opinions of the things you love, the internet is probably not the right place. You’ll find love juxtaposed with hate on pretty much every single topic you can imagine.
      I didn’t attack Laini Taylor personally, I didn’t attack fans of her work. I merely wrote a review with lots of quotes illustrating what I disliked about it, yes even hated. And I believe I am as entitled to disliking, hating, adoring, despising, or loving a book as you and your friends are. People should welcome discussions – how else can we broaden our horizons and open our minds?

      I recently read a negative review of a Cat Valente book and, yes, I felt somewhat outraged that somebody else did’t see the beauty I see in her books. But that’s how it is. People like different things. People view the world differently and what I find very problematic in one book may totally tickle someone else’s fancy. Closing your eyes to negative opinions of something you love will make sure you never move ahead. Nobody forces you to read negative reviews of your favorite books, just the way nobody will keep me from posting them.

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      • lest-she-may says:

        You’re absolutely right. There’s not much else to be said about the books except I liked them and you didn’t, but there is yet much to be said about our fandom, and I believe you’ve bit the nail on the head. Your comments are inflammatory because Tumblr is always burning to be angry about something, not because the material you have written is truly incendiary. While I think it is a vain effort to censor the Internet, I also think your opinions will not be welcome as long as they are criticizing the fandom. I admit that this attitude annoys me to no end – my advice was more to avoid further complaints on be fandom blog I co-run than to express disapproval of your critique. Hey, I get sick of it too. 😉

        Thanks for your response. I’m glad we had this conversation.

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  5. Maffer says:

    Excellent review and follow-up in comments. This book was imaginative and entertaining until about chapter 30 or so (half way through), then I felt cheated by the sudden veer to romance.

    I didn’t finish the book but I did spoil myself on the internet with what happens in this book and the sequel. I will admit the romance as not as ill-advised as as I thought–given the back story–but it was insta-love, as you said, which breaks a cardinal rule for me as a reader.

    By the way, another cardinal rule for me is not to have an anvilicious cliffhanger (which is why I won’t read the Peculiar Children sequel) so Taylor would have lost me anyway. I don’t respect stories with cheap manipulative ploys like that.

    On Goodreads some of the fans compare the book to Romeo and Juliet. That makes about as much sense as the Wuthering Heights/Twilight connection that Meyers thwomps readers over the head with, but okay: if the trilogy ends with the deaths–actual, not reincarnatable–of Akiva and Karou, I will eat my words and have a lot more respect for the trajectory of the story.

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