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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Fantasy, 420 pages
September 27th 2011 by Little, Brown & Company
There's always a worry when you're really looking forward to a book that it's going to disappoint you. And not just disappoint you, but crush you simply because you were so looking forward to it.
I was really looking forward to this. Like, probably more than anything else this year.
And thank you Sweet Baby Cheesus, it was worth every bit of my anticipation and book-coveting.
Sometimes you pick up a book and you know, you just know that you are probably going to end up reading every thing that author ever writes, and buying some of it without even knowing what it's about. I'm putting Laini Taylor on that short-list. She is a wordsmith, and though yes, there are times when I feel it's too much and it's over-written, the fact is that most of the time, I am glorying in every word, every single syllable, every dead-on beautiful line of it, and feeling half-jealous that I didn't write each particular turn of phrase - and I'm not even an author. It's that type of writing. Not flawless, but gorgeous.
But it's one thing to write something well, and I do believe good writing can make an otherwise mediocre story worthwhile and in some cases, even a favorite. But this is a good story, too! It could so easily have been another drop in the overflowing bucket of sameness that paranormal YA has become. But it's like Laini Taylor looked at all of the books out there that have done star-crossed love and supernatural elements and said "How can I do this right?" So much of it - I'm sorry to say - is forgettable. It's been done (often not all that well). It's beige. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a pop of raspberry pink in a sea of beige. (Or a blue feather mask, I guess.) It stands out from the crowd because the writing and the story are so good. She's taken a story that people could say "It's been done" about, and she's made it better. She's set the benchmark; it's one-upmanship at its finest, to which I say kudos.
It has that epic quality that a lot of authors try for - love, heartbreak, betrayal, loss, hope - and it actually hits the mark. It very rarely feels grandiose or melodramatic. It feels organic and true, even when it's treading very close to those YA books that make you roll your eyes. It's all backed up with real emotion and thinking characters, and it's lovely. There's heft and meat to every bit of it. It's palpable.
I am absolutely enamored of the world-building in this. Most of the book takes place on Earth (in Prague) and the scene is set really well. But by the time a second world comes into play (and I'm not going to talk too much about that), even though a majority of the book takes place in Prague, the 2nd world was so visual and so fully realized that I forgot Earth was ever even a part of it. I became so immersed in this other world and it's creatures and cultures that it felt as if it had made up the majority of the book and the world-building. The shift was effortless and almost all-consuming. I loved it. And the mythology that supports it all is thorough and spot on. It plays off of what we think of as angels and devils, and twists it with the addition of what they think of each other, and the reality of what they really are. Even at its most fantastic, it is still very human and relatable, grounded in what we know and expect from human nature. It all coalesces into something that feels very real and fraught with history and pain and, most importantly, hope. Very, very well done.
And then you cap it all off with romance(ish). This is where so many books of this type tank. I very rarely buy into romances, especially those of the sudden and all-consuming variety. This one especially could have easily missed the mark. It has the pang of great tragedy; Karou and Akiva are star-crossed loves and all that jazz, and I am heartless and merciless in matters such as this. If I roll my eyes (if I even blink especially adamantly) it's over. But they are not star-crossed in a woe-is-me, self-centered way, but in that layered and believable way where there are legitimate things, prejudices and betrayals and pain and loss, standing in their way. It's a physical presence between them, and it's crushing. You feel so much for them, and you try to have hope, but you also have delicious doubt, and what does that give us but TENSION and OH MY GOD I talk about lack of tension in so many reviews and how it makes the reader feel cheated and here is someone nailing it and LAINI TAYLOR WILL YOU MARRY ME?
Finally. Finally, someone is getting it right.
Buy this fracking book already.