Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor; or, the Official Worldbuilding Committee

The original subtitle of this post was “Laini Taylor should build all the worlds,” but I reconsidered. I guess I don’t want Laini Taylor to build all the worlds, but she should at least be on the official worldbuilding committee. It would be her, JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Susanna Clarke, and NK Jemisin. And some other people. TBD. You’ll notice I left George R.R. Martin off this list. I did that on purpose. My official worldbuilding committee will consist of authors whose worlds ARE NOT SUPER RAPEY SO THERE. (On that subject see also this and this.)

What I thought Daughter of Smoke and Bone was about: Some sort of magic with blue feathers. No, I don’t know what I thought it was about. Something with disguises.

What it’s about: Actually a quite cool premise! The premise is that there’s this girl, Karou, who has been raised by magical monsters (chimera). They have raised her and cared for her and given her small wishes now and again (she gets a language for each birthday; she wished her hair blue); and in exchange she runs errands for them where she procures teeth. This is necessary for their magic. The rest of the time she lives a fairly normal life in Prague, attending art school, spending time with her friends. And then a stranger comes to town and starts leaving blackened handprints on all the magic doors that lead to the place where the chimera live; and a little while after that, everything changes.

I love it when writers are brave enough to shake up the status quo in a really fundamental way, especially when it would be easy to take an “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach. And I was already in for Daughter of Smoke and Bone before the major change occurred. I would have kept reading regardless. But now I will really really keep reading, all the way to the sequel and most likely into a third book which I assume there will be one of because everything’s a damn trilogy these days. Ballsy plot twists are kinda my jam. I almost wrote a post welcoming Vampire Diaries back to its former glory of ballsy plot twists after the two back-to-back episodes before February sweeps, but I didn’t because I was afraid Season 4 was going to go right back to being boring.

Aspects of the second half of the book were actually less interesting to me, because I wasn’t as invested in the characters as I was in the premise — Memory says this will change in the second book! — and the second half was more character-driven with romances and backstories and things. I…could live without the romance. I do not like books with angels in them. The very mention of an angel in a book is enough to put me off of it, which is why I didn’t mention angels in my above synopsis. Luckily these angels’ righteousness is not clear-cut at all, nor is it a straightforward God-is-the-dictator situation. This book pays more attention to the world of the chimeras, and I’m looking forward to the second half dealing more with the world of the angels. I think there’s good stuff there.

My other criticism is, like, did there need to be a romance? And if yes couldn’t it have been fleshed out a little more? I’m hoping the second book gets me more interested in this aspect of the story. At the moment I keep thinking how it would have been a perfect book if the two characters and their Forbidden Love ™ had been platonic (at least to start with!). That would have been cool, right? If they just thought each other were fun and interesting and cool? I ha-a-ate this thing where the people have one moment and now they’re in deathly sacrifice-everything-for-each-other love. Not a thing, writers of fiction! Not at all a thing.

But the ending of this book left me very excited for the sequel. It’s the kind of sequel set-up where the author has put all the pieces on the board in a manner that promises many permutations of conflict both external and internal. The two main characters are on opposite sides of a war they’re both ambivalent about at best. Woooooo, can’t wait for the sequel. Except I hope the blazing eyes and physical perfection talk will be kept to a minimum. I get what’s happening, I just think it’s boring. Let’s focus on their prickly damaged imperfections instead, shall we?

I will now accept nominations to the Official Worldbuilding Committee. Unrapey worlds will be favored because I just have had enough of that nonsense.

33 thoughts on “Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor; or, the Official Worldbuilding Committee

  1. I do love the idea of a Worldbuilding Committee. I think the members should change often, otherwise you’re going to get a lot of samey worlds. But still, excellent notion. Shame DWJ couldn’t be on it – she’d have been perfect.

    • Well, she could be on it — but worldbuilding isn’t her exact thing, is it? Not that her worlds are BAD but I don’t know that they’re notable for their awesomeness. I always feel her biggest strength is characters.

  2. I loved her worldbuilding as well. It’s really what sold me on the book. I was annoyed with the romance angle too. Starcrossed lovers are so overdone. I’d totally be on board with a book with platonic love.

    • Platonic love is interesting too, and I feel like writers don’t always want to explore that. Or if they do, the people have to be siblings. Which is fine! I like siblings! But sometimes the starcrossed love thing can feel lazy — like instead of fleshing out these characters and why they like each other, the author just falls back on a Romeo & Juliet sort of resonance to make it work for the reader.

  3. Laini Taylor has something going on, for sure. I read DofS&B a year or so ago and was impressed, though I thought the first half was stronger than the second; I too was kind of eye-rolly about the romance thing. Could have worked well without. My (17 year old) daughter was the opposite – she thought it got stronger as it went along, and she’s recently read the next book in the series; gave it the thumbs up, but said that it ended the same as the first, totally mid-sentence, as it were. Also that she had to reread the first book just to get into the whole story again, because it’s complex. Annoying when you need to wait months & months for the next installment … In the meantime, I’d recomend dipping into Lips Touch: Three Times which is three novellas. Nicely done too, though I confess I did rather wander away without finishing the third one right to the end. Bleakish, but rather fabulous world-building going on there, as well. An author to keep an eye on.

    • I don’t mind a book ending quite suddenly, although of course I prefer to have the whole series in front of me before I start. I will try the Lips Touch book as you suggest — my library has it but I wasn’t sure if I’d be interested.

  4. Thank you for the succinct description of the premise. I, too, had a vague notion of the plot complete with blue feathers floating about. But the actual premise is so much better!

  5. I had the same idea about the plot, but being a bookaholic, I bought it anyway, and haven’t had the time to get to it. You just made the time. It sounds like this one is just chock full of awesomeness, and I love that. I need a good book with plot twist and rapeyness extracted. I am also glad that the sequel is out already, because I don’t want to have to wait. I want them all now. Please. You write a mean review, Jenny. I love them all.

    • Hahahahaha, well, your lack of book-buying self-control should pay off in this case! It’s an excellent book and well worth owning. (And no rapeyness at all.)

  6. “My other criticism is, like, did there need to be a romance? And if yes couldn’t it have been fleshed out a little more?”

    A LOT of books make me feel this way. I think there’s way more romance in non-romance books than there needs to be. Not that I’m opposed to reading about them if they’re good, and if they’re relevant, but a lot of times they’re neither. Maybe it’s just me.

    • Yes! It’s not just you, I completely agree. I think particularly in YA these days, and even particularlier in speculative fiction YA, there’s this idea that you have to have a romance for it to be, I don’t know, marketable maybe? Or worthwhile? I don’t always mind it, but I’ve started sighing a bit to see it come up YET AGAIN.

  7. Did you hear that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is going to be a TV miniseries? Should be interesting if done well!

    I agree on the rape-y worlds. I am over them. And over everyone who says things like “THAT’S WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE IN THE MIDDLE AGES.” As though to be realistic to the setting, one has to have mass rapes. And I still find it hard to believe that everyone knows everything that took place in the middle ages when there probably wasn’t a lot written at that time and people probably exaggerated.

    As for a world-building committee – SO EXCITING! I may have to hold out for a couple more books, but I think Rachel Hartman has potential. Also, it’s not that his worlds are so well-defined, but Neil Gaiman just writes such atmospheric novels that I feel his worlds are pretty good. Also TERRY PRATCHETT.

    • I am very, very, very excited for the JS & MN miniseries. I can’t wait to hear more about casting.

      I sometimes want to learn a ton about the Middle Ages so I can rebut that argument. I’m with you — it seems hard to believe that it was quite that rapey.

      Oo, Rachel Hartman, that is a good addition. She’s one I’m already keeping an eye on. Good call. As you may know I’m not such a Terry Pratchett fan. But I will try to keep an open mind.

  8. Unfortunately there does have to be a romance because that is the trend and what sells 😦 I don’t mind romance, but it does get in the way a lot. I hadn’t been interested in this book up to your review; I feel like I’ve read about a totally different book, but then you’ve detailed it a lot more than the reviews I’d read. It sounds really good. I second Aarti’s recommendation of Terry Pratchett.

  9. With you on the romance. I get that publishers think that this is what teen girls are looking for (and somehow almost all young adult books are marketed towards teen girls these days – whole other issue…), but most of the time it feels unnecessary. And awkward. And unrealistic. I really hope this trend will end soon.

    • I hope so too! I enjoy young adult fiction a lot when it’s done well, and the romance stuff can really get cloying. Especially when the author goes on and on about how beautiful one or both of the characters are.

  10. Pingback: Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone | Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book Reviews

  11. Robin Hobb, Glenda Larke & Katherine Kerr…oh and Kate Eliot for the world building committee. (Just the other day I was trying to explain to my partner that there are more complex interesting worlds out there than GOT..he watches not reads)

  12. Pulled this from my to-read stack after reading your review and OH MY GOD it’s so good. Thank you; I’d been in a rut.

  13. Pingback: Review: Days of Blood and Starlight, Laini Taylor | Jenny's Books

  14. Pingback: Latest Acquisitions (May 2013) || The Worm Hole

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