Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is one of those books that most people absolutely love that just left me feeling “meh.” The prose is beautiful and the descriptions make me long to travel, but I got stuck feeling “Oh, this is one of those destined to be together stories.” I read a lot of YA especially in recent years, and I loathe plots that encourage young readers to believe they have a destined partner that need to find as quickly as possible. While that’s not precisely what Laini Taylor weaves in Daughter of Smoke and Bone the Romeo and Juliet nature of the romance left me cold, and the apparent superficiality in the bond between Akiva and Karou, one built almost entirely on physical beauty, felt like a dangerous precedent.
The novel started well. Karou is a seventeen year old art student in Prague who enjoys normal student activities like live sketching and hanging out with her friend, Zuzana. However,the young woman was raised in a strange world between ours and what her foster father, Brimstone, calls “Elsewhere,” and her entire family consists of animal/human hybrids that Karou carefully depicts on the pages of her numerous sketchbooks. She collects teeth around the world for Brimstone in exchange for payment in the form of wishes, although he will never allow her to earn anything more powerful than minor changes such as her naturally blue hair. She has no idea why her chimaera foster father needs the teeth, but the adventure and payment is worth the hassle of hiding her errands from Zuzana. As long as the portal doors remain functional Karou can traverse between the human world and Brimstone’s shop with ease, but suddenly burnt handprints begin showing up on portal doors worldwide severing the magic tying the two planes.
At this point in the story I was intrigued. Karou was strong and interesting, and I wanted to know more about her relationship with her chimaera family. I wanted to know what the teeth were for and why Karou had to be the courier. What was happening with the doors? Who would want to close the magical portals?
Then Akiva showed up. The seraph is physically stunning, and Karou is immediately drawn to his perfection. Conversely he starts obsessing about her perfect skin and hair like water almost as quickly. While the novel does provide a reason for the insta-lust I just found the entire scenario ridiculous. I’m not putting it down out of any prudery or dislike of romance in general; I just require a little more reason for attraction that “Wow, look at those amazing abs!” or “Her hair is fabulous!” Everything between the pair is based on external factors, which turned me off. The back story about Akiva and Madrigal bothered me a little less even though I knew it was doomed from the start since the book says as much in the opening pages. While there was still a strong degree of attraction due to the physical they had thought and wondered about each other for several years by the time they reunited and consummated their feelings. It still felt rushed, but at least they were both adults not one an adult and the other a teenager.
My other problem with the Akiva/Karou romance was simply that they felt blank as a pair. Akiva lacked character depth, and Karou lost many of her defining characteristics when she became mushy for the angel. At least she wasn’t so lost in her lust for him that she forgave him mindlessly for the final reveal.
For me this book would have worked better as two different novels instead of a blend. If the plot had been split it could have become two exceptional books instead of one middling one. However, if you love paranormal and don’t mind instant romance Daughter of Smoke and Bone has some amazing aspects that raise it above the standards in the genre. At the very least you may find yourself longing to plan a vacation to Prague to wander the streets for a little while.
Three Carefully Preserved Wishbones out Five