Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.
So starts Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone with one of the best opening quotes in YA literature. After suffering through irrelevant biblical quotes, sappy passages from Romeo and Juliet, and even Beyoncé song lyrics, it was refreshing to find an opening that grabbed my attention, and made me want to read more.
At first, I wasn't disappointed. I was positively enthralled by the beginning of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, largely due to Taylor's beautiful writing style. During the first half, she does what she did so well in Lips Touch Three Times; she weaves words into pictures with imaginative similes and inspiring word choices. Although the prose can be a little heavy handed, I didn't feel like it was over done or purple. When Taylor is on top of her game, she is one of my favorite YA writers in terms of her writing style.
I also liked Karou. Her backstory was intriguing. A girl raised by demons (also known as chimera), who doesn't know who she is or where she came from. Her time is split between running odd errands for her chimera family, and as a mysterious art student in Prague, hanging out with her best friend and dealing with a cheating ex boyfriend.
She has normal teenage insecurities. She makes mistakes (such as giving her virginity to someone who doesn't end up being her one true love, a rarity in YA literature). She can also be petty and vain, but all of these things serve to make her a relatable character, and generally she is a good person. On top of this, she is also a skilled and resourceful fighter, trained in martial arts techniques, and she collects languages.
I was also intrigued by the four demons she called family. I absolutely love Brimstone whose character stays consistently awesome from beginning to end, despite my lukewarm feelings about the second half of the novel. He is a reserved character, but Taylor does a wonderful job showing his love for Karou in subtle ways. Issa was another character I enjoyed and I wish I had gotten to see more of her and the other two chimera, Twiga and Yasri.
For the first half of this novel I was on the edge of my seat, wanting to know more about Karou's past, about the teeth Brimstone collected, and about the world that lay beyond Brimstone's mysterious door.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone had the potential to be one of my favorite books in 2011, but sadly things started to fall apart once Akiva entered the scene. That's when Laini Taylor's interesting, imaginative, original story became cliché. First, the prose, which were a bit dense to begin with, became painfully purple. The parts describing Akiva read like a more grammatically correct Twilight, which if you know anything about my reading tastes, is a very bad thing. He is described as "breath-stealingly beautiful," moving with a "predatory grace," and his amber eyes are described as "pure and luminous, mesmerizing, and achingly beautiful." And this is just in the first chapter he's introduced. These gushing descriptions of him continue on for the rest of the novel. Even as I learned more about him, I could never connect with the character because his entire motivation for everything that he does is his love for Karou/Madrigal which I just didn't buy.
The romance, in my opinion, was insta-love at its worst, and it was lost on me. Akiva and Karou know nearly nothing about each other before falling madly in love, and Karou spends entirely too much time gushing about Akiva's beauty, one of the most common and serious sins in YA literature. The explanation for their sudden love is that they are soul mates. Perhaps I could have bought into it more had I felt like the love between Akiva and Madrigal was better developed, but that too felt shallow and superficial. After only one meeting where she saves his life inexplicably, he gives up killing chimera and searches for her for two years. She, too, spends two years thinking about him knowing only that he was an angel whose life she saved. Most of the development in their relationship is told, not shown, and these developments happen after they've already fallen in love and risked their lives to be with each other.
In addition to the lackluster love story, I found it very hard to relate to Madrigal, which is a shame since she is featured during the second half quite a bit. She is just too perfect. Beautiful, pure, innate goodness not explained by her backstory. I also had some issues with the disconnect between the common human understanding of angels and demons, and the mythology in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It's unclear to me how their world and ours relate to each other. The chimera have a small connection through Brimstone, but I don't understand how the seraph are connected at all. There was an intriguing plot line about a fallen seraph, but it was dropped in favor of the romance.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, but after the disappointing second half, I'm unsure if I will read the sequels.