The Daughter of Smoke and Bone
This story has everything: magic, angels and demons, a main character who will break your heart, and suspense. Taylor is a magician with words. The story she paints is achingly beautiful. It’s really impressive the way she is able to present her characters as living breathing people, but not necessarily whole. None of her characters are whole and that’s compelling in so many ways, because really, are any of us really whole? Taylor’s characters are all flawed to the point where you can see the people in your life in this story. The motherly chimeara that lets Karou into the shop, Brimestone’s attitude toward Karou that speaks of such love and affection without any outward indication, Akiva’s compulsion to protect Karou a few hours after meeting her. All of these characters are flawed in a way that is the essence of what it means to be human (despite the fact that most of them are not, in fact, human at all.)
Karou has two lives. In one, she hangs out in the Poison Kitchen, eating goulash off of coffin lids and talking about art school with her friend, Zuzana. In the other life, she visits her family (composed of chimeara) in a shop that’s filled with teeth of every kind and lamplight. Karou has questions… a lot of questions. She doesn’t know who her parents are or where she comes from. She doesn’t know what Brimestone is doing with all of the teeth she brings him back from the errands he sends her on and she doesn’t know why she feels so empty inside. While running errands for Brimestone, Karou notices that blackened, smoking handprints are appearing on all of the portals around the world that lead to the shop. Reports of winged people leaving the handprints by just touching the door begin circulating the globe. Karou is about to learn why her family reacted so strongly to the angel wings she made for a class.
It happens sometimes where an author has an idea that is entrancing, but in the execution of story somehow loses track of the idea and misses the mark. Taylor is not one of those authors. She had an intoxicating idea and executed it perfectly. In many ways, I’m jealous of Taylor because her voice is exactly the one this story needed to be told in. I know the work that’s put into creating a book, but this one read as if it was effortless, like it all flowed out of the ether, in one beautifully phrased line, onto the page that could only have been parchment. Her language is rich and her sentence structure is magical. This is youth fiction and it is worthy of being called prose.
The reason I believe this is because of one scene in particular and it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the plot. There is a point in the story where Karou’s friend Zuzana is giving a public performance of her semester project. She has built a huge puppeteer who will be controlled by the puppet, Zuzana. The way Taylor writes the performance is both sad and ethereal. The moment when Zuzana is tucked away in the chest, but gives the crowd one last look of longing before the lid snaps down is a moment of pure desire and it spoke to me. Reading this I wanted to hop on a plane to Prague just on the odd chance that things like that really do happen there. Taylor has an uncanny ability to write people and place. I’ve never been to Prague, but you can be sure that I will find myself there one day based solely on this book. Taylor wrote it in a way that makes me know that I will love it there. Other people might look at the vampire tours and think oh what commercialism, but Taylor writes about the place that exists just under that, the place where the streets are steeped in Magic and Time. That is the place I want to visit and that is the place where this tale of love and war and angels and chimeara takes place.
It’s hard not to make the trite comparison to Romeo and Juliet, given the star-crossed nature of Karou and Akiva, but in some ways it’s unavoidable. However, to fully evaluate it would be one hell of a spoiler, so I’ll leave it for you to find. What I can say is that I find Akiva to be heartbreaking and not because of his ethereal beauty. He is heartbreaking because of the lengths he goes to for Karou (which again I can’t tell you because you’d hate me for it). Just watch for it. You’ll see it.
The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a mystical tale filled with love, death, and pain, but it’s about so much more than that. At its core is the simple statement of: we’re really all the same and in the end, that’s all that matters.
5 ink bottles and whatever bits and bobs can be found in Brimestone’s shop. It’s delightfully thrilling in every way.