Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Club: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I finished a novel for a book club this month! Hooray! This shouldn’t seem like a big accomplishment, but after my book club failure last month, finishing any book by a set deadline feels impressive. So, for Fall Book Club we read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

Daughter of Smoke and BoneI’m not quite sure what to say about this book, so I’ll start at the beginning—the way beginning, long before I had a copy of the novel in my hands. Last May at BEA I attended a panel with five editors talking about five of the most buzzed about books for the upcoming fall season. Alvina Ling, the editor at Little, Brown who worked on Daughter of Smoke and Bone was there. I don’t remember much about the panel other than I was kind of underwhelmed by the editors’ presentations; none of the books seemed to stand out when the editor was talking about the acquisition and editing process or the fantastic world that the author created. And that’s because what makes books really special is not the plot or characters; it’s the writing, and that’s nearly impossible to convey in a presentation that doesn’t include reading an excerpt from the book. The one thing that did make Daughter of Smoke and Bone stand out for me, though, was that one of the last things Alvina mentioned: it was set in Prague. I perked up in my seat. This is something that intrigued me beyond the paranormal and fantasy elements that, when summarized, this book seemed to share with all the other highlighted novels. I adore Prague!

And that, I guess, is where I should start my review of the book. The setting, the world, the magic—breathtaking. And the novel isn’t just set in the seemingly magical Prague; much of it takes place in Marrakesh and otherworldly places. The various settings and the way Laini describes them is the gem of this novel. Fantasy novels are generally so Euro-centric and moving away from traditional Northern-European medieval villages and castles to rich, lush, different settings was so refreshing. And the way in which Laini throws in terms that refers to everyday objects found in Marrakesh that weren’t familiar to me made the scope of her novel so much broader than typical YA. It’s wonderful to see a novel do new things and push the boundaries of what readers expect. The lushness and complexity will appeal to readers of all ages, not just teens.

That being said, I didn’t love the novel. I wanted to so badly and thought for the majority of the book that it was better than average bordering on really good. But there wasn’t much of an actual plot; there was beautiful world building and I was intrigued to find out more about Karou…but what actually happened during the course of the novel? Three or four things, that’s it. There needed to be more action leading to an understandable if not foreseeable point. Perhaps there will be direction in the sequel.

This next point contains major spoilers. Stop reading now if you haven’t read the novel yet. My larger concern and reason for not loving Daughter of Smoke and Bone is from the last quarter where we finally find out who Karou is. I wanted to know. I was intrigued, but not interested enough to have a 75-page tangent about Karou’s past life as Madrigal. It was too much and I ended up not caring, even when it came to the steamy romance between her and Akiva. I wanted to know about present-day Karou in Marrakesh trying to find Brimestone and her family, not Madrigal who only had been barely mentioned by Akiva once or twice before. As I got closer and closer to the end of the novel and realized that the conclusion was basically just the reveal of who Karou was and wouldn’t get to the action I was sorely disappointed.

And, unrelated to the text, I despise the cover. Anyone else with me? Although it definitely hints to the mystery of the novel I find it dull and misrepresentative of the overall story. Karou is the girl with blue hair, not the girl who wears a feathery mask! And yes—I understand that the image might be of Madrigal at the ball, but once again, I care about Karou, not Madrigal!

So, to wrap up this long review, I’m torn. Some aspects I really loved, some I was disappointed in. I’ll definitely read the sequel—but I won’t preorder it the way I did this novel.

What are your thoughts?


  1. See, I was okay with the decline in action, because I was invested enough to want the mystery unraveled. But that is the issue with shifting so late in the book; maybe the reader is too emotionally connected to Karou to shift allegiance to Madrigal.

  2. I agree about the shift to Madrigal's story--I sped-read that section, waiting to get back to Karou (and getting increasingly anxious about the dwindling number of pages).

  3. I was a bit peeved by the flashback story of Madrigal at first, but for some reason I became invested in it rather quickly. I think this comes back (at least for me personally) to Laini's writing. I just bought everything she said. Early on I knew I'd trust where she took the story, no matter how crazy it got, and this does not happen to me with most books. Ultimately I wanted to get back to Karou, but I also wanted to know about Karou's tragic downfall (as Madrigal) with Akiva. This kept me invested (although I will agree that 75p backstory could have been tighter).

    I also agree that the book was a bit quiet. I'm a little bummed the big action and ultimate climax is being saved for a second book, but at the same time I'm incredibly excited to return to Laini's writing and Karou's world.

    Really appreciate the honesty in this review. Thanks for sharing! :)

  4. Like you, I loved the setting(s) of this book. Laini Taylor completely transported me to all of the places Karou traveled, and now I desperately want to visit Prague and Marrakesh.

    Like Erin mentioned, this is a quieter book, which might be why it appealed to me so much. As a fan of quieter, character-based stories, I absolutely loved this one. I can see why, though, if you prefer more action, you might be a little bored with this first installment of Karou's story.

    Will you read the follow-up? I'm dying to know what's coming next, and I have to think it might be more action-packed, seeing as how Karou's journey is really just beginning.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review! It's so interesting to read everyone's opinions, and especially when they differ from my own. :)

  5. Thanks for the honest review, Laurel.

    When I heard this book was set in Prague I was so excited. It's one of my favorite cities and I can't think of another YA book that's set there. I think she did such a great job bringing the city to life.

    At the start of the flashback to Madrigal's life I did start to wonder when we'd get back to Karou and how much longer we'd spend with Magrigal. But as soon as the masked ball happened I was totally into Madrigal's story. I still don't like Madrigal as much as Karou, whose personality I think is much better, I didn't mind seeing how the relationship with Akiva happened and what caused her downfall. I also loved finding out what Brimstone did for Madrigal/Karou. His actions were one of my favorite parts of the novel.

    I do wish we found out what happend to Karou's family--I always have a thing against cliffhanger endings--but it didn't ruin the story for me in the least. I cannot wait for the next book!

  6. It was so refreshing to read yours and Kate's review because I thought there was seriously something wrong with me for not loving this book. And it was the backstory that did me in. I actually fumed for a while when first introduced to Madrigal.

    Excellent review!

  7. Interesting that several of you were taken out of story by the long Madrigal backstory. For me, it was still Karou's story and I was intrigued to learn what got her to the strange place she held in the human world. I usually hate cliffhangers but this one didn't bother me for some reason. It hurt my heart but I was okay with the book settling there (kind of like the ending of The Golden Compass, I know it's going to continue into another world)