Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall Book Club: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Around the beginning of September, Tracey Neithercott suggested a most brilliant idea: a virtual Fall Book Club. A group of writers and readers propose a book to read, return a month later and post a review, and then hop around to all the other fabulous book thoughts.

This month's book?

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?


• The animated back-and-forth between Karou and her best friend Zazuna. The dialogue between them flowed beautifully and just felt so real, real enough I felt like I was eating goulash at a table with them in Poison Kitchen. I loved Zazuna’s loyalty to her friend. I love that she gave Karou crap about certain things, but then let her have her space and her secrets too. Okay, I guess I just loved Zazuna.

• The writing—the flowery prose, the perfectly placed metaphors, the dialogue, the battle sequences, Karou’s inner dialogue—okay, there was a lot to love about the writing.

• The setting—specifically Prague. The Charles Bridge, the Poison Kitchen, the maze of streets that seem haunting yet beautiful—Laini Taylor made me feel like I was there. My brother’s been to Prague twice and I’ve always been jealous of his Czech travels. Now I really want to start saving for my own trip.

• Karou’s sketches, her strength, her VOICE. That despite how much the right choice hurts, she STILL makes it.

Case in point: (starring Karou and ex-boyfriend Kaz(aka super bad boy))

“Get Svetla to be your vampire vixen,” she said. “She’s got the vixen part down.”

He looked pained. “I don’t want Svetla. I want you.”

“Alas. I am not an option.”

“Don’t say that,” he said, reaching for her hand.

She pulled back, a pang of heartache surging in spite of all her efforts at aloofness. Not worth it, she told herself. Not even close.

• Brimstone—he’s Karou’s father figure, the one who sends her on her teeth-gathering errands. Stern, yet soft. Aloof, yet concerned. He reminded me of Henry Jones Senior (Indiana Jones’ dad), you know, until he dealt out love advice to Karou:

"I don’t know many rules to live by,” he’d (Brimstone) 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.”

Inessential penises.

Love. Easily one of my favorite characters.

PS—Karou’s response was classic. But I’ll let you read the book for that one.

• Quotes like this:

Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.

HOPE—it’s the heart of the novel. And I love me a good story about hope.

What I enjoyed:

• The magic—Karou “collects” languages and makes scuppy wishes for blue hair. Love.

• Kaz—the manipulative ex-boyfriend. I know. I shouldn’t like him, but I’m a sucker for a good bad boy.

• The premise. I am not an angel/demon/otherworldly creatures kind of girl, but this story had an incredibly unique twist to it. And I very much enjoyed the mystery behind the teeth. And the otherworldly war. And creatures I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to root for.

And now for what I didn't love:

• The writing. I KNOW. I just said I LOVED the writing. But sometimes, Taylor was a little too descriptive or overly metaphorical. Or the pace slowed too much where I disengaged from the story—mid-chapter. At times, yes, the writing pulled me out of the story.

• The last one hundred pages. Without trying to spoil it—necessary back story and realizations conveyed in a way that, at first, confused me—for several chapters. I was so busy trying to figure out what was going on and was consequently taken out of the story. And I didn't like that.

And PS—just so you know, I almost didn’t review this book. I typically review books that I’m in LOVE with and want others to fall in love with too. And I felt like there was something seriously WRONG with me because I just didn’t love Smoke and Bone as much as everyone else did. And I didn’t want to make someone (who might LOVE it) shy away from it based on my review.

Because I did love the myriad of characters. The premise. Karou. Okay, there was a lot to love about this book!

But I just didn’t completely connect. Maybe it’s my love hate relationship with angel/demon books. Maybe it was the last hundred pages.

Maybe there really is something wrong with me.

Would I recommend it? Yes. For all the LOVE and enjoyed reasons above. And because there are some books I’m not super crazy about that others may fall completely in love with.

So, did you ever read a book that everyone else LOVED and you didn’t? (Or am I the only weird one?)


  1. I agree with everything that you said. I loved the characters and the setting and the great dialog and all of the good stuff. But that 75 page long dump of backstore, yeah, not the best part of the book.

    I still liked this book a lot, and would recommend it to the right person. But I didn't love it either, and I don't think it was the not liking angel/demon books problem. Because I thought Brimstone was the best demon character ever invented.

    I just didn't like how it felt like two seprate books with totally different characters and storylines that were crammed between the same covers.

  2. I loved every inch of this book, but it's interesting for me to see where other readers didn't connect with it. But everyone's got different tastes--there's a book I won't name that is getting major hype and adoration, and I found it almost painful to read.

  3. Ooh, this book sounds interesting. Obviously I've never read it, but now I think I'll put it on my To-Read list and see if my opinions match up with anything you said. Thanks for the review!

  4. I loved reading your point of view, and Kate's, because I felt very strongly during that last quarter that some readers would disconnect. (I read the last 200 pages in one sitting, so I stayed tuned in.) I wondered if she could have included Madrigal's POV from the beginning, with Brimstone as the connecting factor, to tighten up the long section of back story.

  5. I LOVE that quote from Brimstone! HA HA HA. And, yes, Karou's response is so perfect. Oh how I loved Brimstone.

    Thanks for the honest review!

  6. There are quite a few books out there right now with major hype that didn't float my boat at all, so I totally get you.

    I was surprised at how much I LOVED the last half of the book. In fact, I was enjoying the beginning, but it started to lose me. And when we slipped back into the Madrigal story THAT'S when I was like WOW THIS BOOK. And it's funny because it seems like it would be the part I liked the least. It just hit me in a major way.

  7. Interesting review. That's okay that you didn't love all of this. Thanks for your honest review.I met Laini at a book signing and have a copy of this. Can't wait to read it.

  8. Thanks for talking about this book. I'm excited to read it.

  9. I liked Kaz, too, despite his manipulations. :)
    Had I not enjoyed the first part of the book so much (and if it weren't mostly grounded in a realistic world), I think I would've had trouble with the last 100-200 pages. But because I was so invested in the story by that point, I enjoyed the extended backstory. That was probably a good lesson for me as a writer--that it can help immensely to connect your readers to the present story line before jumping back or forward.

  10. I appreciate your honesty and see your point. I didn't have that reaction myself, just awe and admiration for the writing and storytelling. This whole book felt so magical and original to me.

  11. I loved Brimstone and that "essential penises" conversation too! So fun, and really great advice, if you think about it. :)

    It seems like most of the people who had issues with SMOKE AND BONE had them with the last 100 pages of the story. Funny how for some of us the reveal of Karou's back story was the perfect payoff, and for some it turned out to be frustrating. Glad you liked the story overall though.

    And yes, I've DEFINITELY read lots of books where I seem to be in the HATED IT minority, but I suppose that's the great part of having so many genres and authors to choose from!

  12. Sounds like a good read.

    I have awarded you the One Lovely Blog Award. Stop by and pick it up :)

  13. Overly descriptive and metaphorical might drive me crazy. I am not sure why I sometimes feel like the only one who doesn't care about that so much as the pacing and the action (except for Simone Elkeles who totally agreed with me!).

  14. I am soooooo behind on this month's read doh. I actually felt the same about the writing - things I like and things I don't connect with so far.


Yay! I LOVE comments!