Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Note: This review was originally posted on my blog "Shelf of Friends" on February 21, 2012.

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Pages: 432
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Age Range: YA
Publication Date: 9/27/2011
Publisher: Little, Brown, & Company

What's it about?

"Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."

The above line is how the book begins, and really it's an apt summary of the novel. But this isn't angels and demons in a Biblical sense. These angels and demons are creatures of another world (or perhaps dimension is the better word choice), creatures locked in a war thousands of years old. Not a war of good and evil, but a war that is very common in our own world: a war between a more technologically advanced race and their "barbaric" neighbors.

But that's just the background of this novel. This story is really about Karou, an art student in Prague. She seems like an ordinary student, despite her cobalt blue hair that seems to grow that way straight from her head. She works hard at learning her art. She's trying to get over a boy who refuses to recognize he's been dumped. And she has a job--a job that involves collecting teeth for the monsters who raised her: Issa who is half human and half serpent, Twiga who has the neck of a giraffe, Yasri with a parrot-beak and human eyes, and Brimstone the Wishmonger, with his giant ram's horns. Brimstone collects teeth of all sorts, animal and human, and grants those who bring them to him wishes.

Karou runs errands for Brimstone and his seemingly monstrous crew, and despite their strange look they are her family. The reader can easily see how Karou loves her and they love her in return--despite the fact Karou seems to be merely human.

But then mysterious hand prints are discovered burned into the doors that lead to Brimstone's dimension. And suddenly, Karou is alone with no access to her monstrous family.

There is a war going on between Brimstone's people and the people who left the hand prints on the door, and Karou is stuck in the middle. She embarks on a journey to figure out how to get back to Brimstone, while discovering the angelic enemy. And Karou begins to discover she may be more involved with this war than she ever knew.

It's Ya. Tell me about the boy!

Akiva is not a mere boy. Akiva is an angel, one of the very angels fighting against Brimstone and his more demonic seeming crew. He is beautiful--as only an angel can be--but also like an angel he is deadly. He is a trained killer, having spent all of his life in a war against the demons.Karou and Akiva first meet as enemies, but Akiva's strange attraction to her--this seemingly ordinary human girl--is what saves her life. The dangerous, mysterious Akiva does seem rather cliche for a paranormal romance at first, as does their strange attraction to each other which seems almost against their will. But there is more going on than there seems to be, and Akiva hasn't always been a dedicated soldier to the war.

I'm always willing to give strange attraction story lines a pass at first when magic is involved (because magic can create strange attractions people can't explain in many fictional scenarios), as long as by the end of the story the magic is explained and makes sense. And in this case, it makes sense, though it does take over half of the book for it to actually make sense.

What makes this book different from every other YA paranormal romance?

I don't read a lot of paranormal romance, so I can't honestly say what differentiates it from the rest. But for me it has to be the world building. First off, the magic! At first, all the reader knows is that you can trade Brimstone teeth for wishes, and like Karou, I wondered "what the heck does Brimstone need all those teeth for? And how does teeth power wishes?" Well, I'm not sure the book ever really explained how teeth powered wishes (maybe the second book), but when I discovered what the teeth was used for...well, it was unexpected. And fantastic. And make perfect sense for these monster who are fighting a war against angels. Which brings me to my second point.

The war. I loved how the war was based on perhaps one of the most common and ancient situations in our world's history. This wasn't some esoteric or ridiculous reason for war. No apples of beauty or Helen of Troy here. It made perfect sense, and the demon's need for teeth fit right into it. Which is how thing should work in great world building. Everything should be tied in together for the world and societies to make sense.

I eagerly await the next book which promises to spend more time on the other world/dimension and less in ours. We got a great window into the demon's world in this book. They were presented as extremely sympathetic, whereas the angels were not. I hope that a deeper look into this world will give us a fully realized angel society that is equally sympathetic. Because that makes for the greatest stories, where you feel sympathy for both sides who are locked in this endless battle.

If this was a movie, what would its rating be?

The book takes place during a war, so there is violence. I would only describe it as PG-13 violence though. There are a few distinct violent scenes: one-on-one fights, bloody battles, and an execution. But there is no glory in the violence, and if anything the main characters are tired of war and wish the battles could end.

I can't remember any cases of bad language, so it's probably in the PG or PG-13 range.

This book does have several sexual situations. None of it is descriptive. It's very PG-13 fade to black, but it is a paranormal romance so the feelings and desires that accompany these situations are described in detail. Karou clearly thinks having sex before marriage is ok (and before the events of the book she did sleep with her boyfriend though she regrets it because he's a jerk), but I love Brimstone's response when he discovers it. He says, "Stop squandering yourself, child. Wait for love." And that it something I can get behind. Don't squander yourself. Wait.

Overall, how was it?

I've never made a secret of the fact I'm not a huge fan of paranormal romance, and I'm going to be honest, I spent over half of the book waiting for some huge plot driven story line that never came. But this story left me with the promise of more plot in the sequel. Because there is a war going on, and the events of this book most definitely made one side more likely to come out victorious. I can just imagine that in the next book we're going to see politics and battles that lead towards the end of the war. So in many ways this book was only a set up book for bigger events to come.

But if you like stories about angels, books about romance and past lives, or beautifully written stories with fantastically built worlds, you'll probably like this story.