Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone / Author: Laini Taylor / Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks / Release Date: Out Now
“Once upon a time, a little girl was raised by monsters” – that's the premise of this novel, the first part of a trilogy which has potential to raise the bar for the paranormal romance genre. Karou is a 17 year old art student in Prague, and apart from her habit of scribbling strange creatures in her sketchbook, she seems pretty normal. But she has another life. An orphan, she's been brought up by Brimstone, a monstrous demon sorcerer who, with the help of a colourful retinue which includes a snake woman, runs a shop situated in another dimension where he trades wishes for teeth.
Without having the faintest clue as to their significance, Karou runs errands – some dull, some dangerous – for this unlikely father figure. But tragedy strikes when angels destroy the portals that lead to Brimstone's lair and Karou is stranded in our world away from the only family she has ever known.
The early pages weave a wonderful spell of mystery, beauty and bubbling wit. Laini Taylor writes with an intelligence, an exquisiteness of phrase and a feeling for opulently high romance that recalls the late, great Angela Carter. Prague, with its ancient snowy streets, its marionette theatres and violinists, makes for a glamorous setting, and there's plenty of fun too as Karou gets back at an odious ex-boyfriend and swaps wisecracks with her bestie, Zuzana. The idea of wishes as a form of currency, as coins that can be bought, then cashed in at an appropriate moment, is elegant and cleverly extrapolated. Best of all, though, is Brimstone: daunting, mysterious but wise and sympathetic, and his dusty shop where he strings necklaces of teeth (what exactly he needs all these teeth for is a question that has been tormenting Karou all her young life). It's only a shame he's not in the novel a little more, but then again he gains much of his force from being presented in an oblique manner.
As a stand-alone work, Daughter of Smoke and Bone has one significant shortcoming. The last third is largely given over to a back-story which broadens our understanding of the world of demons and angels, and Karou's part in it. Now, while this is very engaging, it's not quite as special as what went before, and it's also hard not to feel that the story is going backwards rather than forwards. But it's reasonable to assume that this will seem like much less of an issue within the context of the trilogy as a whole. Even with that caveat, this novel's combination of luminous prose, psychological depth and exhilarating flights of fancy should make it a must-read for lovers of fantasy with a heart.