Review | Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
It's uncommon for first impressions of books to be so completely wrong!
When I first started Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I thought I was seeing 'potential Mary Sue' signs everywhere on Karou - the equivalent of neon lights. Happily, the contextual presences of tropes such as having unusually colored - in this case, blue - hair, and a repeated use of 'love at first sight' style attraction are actually very well explained, leading into a deeper conflict than I initially thought. Essentially, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is what seems initially like a lightweight urban fantasy, but turns out to be a whole lot more!
Karou is a human brought up by those who weren't - chimaeras. While she attends art school with her friends, her work reveals another life: she runs errands for the residents of a small shop, all she is permitted to see of Elsewhere. Sounds boring? Well, til you hear what the errands are - fetching and bargaining for teeth from grave robbers and illegal poachers across the world, in return for minor wishes. Right from the start, there's an atmosphere of mystery. As you can probably guess, you're wondering pretty early about the teeth...
But the doors to Elsewhere are closing, marked with blackened handprints. And across the world, people are seeing angels. They're not delusional.
Aside from the setting's mysteries, the fluent dialogue also adds a more local tension: we're concerned for the local intrigues of Prague, the social details, not just the supernatural. Karou, for all signs of a 'potential Mary Sue', is not. She's not miraculously competent: she's talented, and we like to read that. More importantly, she's likeable - and doesn't exist in a vacuum. Although the Prague cast is small, it's also a worthy addition.
The non-supernatural setting, Prague, is also a nice touch: urban fantasy tends to confine itself to a few locations, and to set it in such a non-traditional (and very atmospheric!) location is a nice touch I can only laud Laini Taylor for. All in all? Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a deftly character-driven urban fantasy that quickly deepens - with a sequel hook that'll leave you looking for more. It's not as fast-paced as some, but does it deserve its chance? Definitely.
A voracious science fiction and fantasy reader - I like to think, anyway. I live in England, meaning I end up watching the rain through the window more than I'd like! I run a monthly series on fantasy magic systems over at Grasping for the Wind, and am a staff member at Fantasy Faction - where you should definitely check out the forums - as well as running my blog, Drying Ink.