Review: Days of Blood and Starlight, Laini Taylor

I have some serious reservations about Days of Blood and Starlight, which I will enumerate, but let me start by saying some nice things about it, because I enjoyed it very very much. Spoilers follow for Daughter of Smoke and Bone but not (unless marked) for Days of Blood and Starlight.

First of all, Laini Taylor’s worldbuilding talents are still very much in evidence. Although we already know the outline of this world from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Taylor presents a lot of cool new details about what the world has been like all along, and she sets up more vivid places and ideas for the new reality the characters find themselves in. For example, it was neat to see the chimera that aren’t involved in the war — the small, unimportant demons who live in communities and couldn’t make war if they wanted to. Though not everyone in this world is a soldier, everyone becomes involved in the soldiers’ war.

I loved as well the way the characters were perpetually forced to reexamine their values to adjust to changing circumstances. THAT IS WHAT I LIKE OKAY.

But for real though. The second book opens months after the end of the first one. Karou has become a resurrectionist in the service of the chimera who once — in her former life — was her (terrifying) intended husband. Alive again, the White Wolf begins to make guerrilla warfare upon the angels, while Karou resurrects the dead as quickly as she’s able to build new bodies for them. This is obviously less than great for Karou, but as she feels it’s her fault that all her people are dead, she is grimly determined to keep going. However, she does not control the chimera once they’ve been resurrected. The battles the White Wolf chooses aren’t the battles Karou would choose, and she has to deal with that over and over again throughout the book. It’s great.

(Akiva has his stuff too, but he is not as interesting to me with his angsty godlike wingsiness. Whatever dude. So you saved a deer girl one time. That doesn’t make us friends. I wish his sister or brother had been the point-of-view character instead of him.)

Another piece of awesomeness in the worldbuilding department is the sudden importance of this third party, the Stelians, about whom we know practically nothing except that Akiva’s mother was one and that they write impeccable and scary no-thank-you notes. In the hands of another writer I’d worry that the Stelians would prove an anticlimax when we meet them properly in the third book, but Laini Taylor has proved impressively creative and ballsy about introducing new sections of her universe, new insane plot twists, and dumping of enormous chunks of the status quo to make way for something new.

I hardcore loved the way the book ended. I don’t mind a cliffhanger when it feels like a natural end to the book rather than a ploy to keep you in over the course of the years before the next book comes out. This ending made sense. It’s what the book was building toward all along. Akiva and Karou have been, in their different ways, fighting a war they never wanted to fight, and trying to imagine another way to live. If you’re going to end a book on a cliffhanger, I like it to be the sort of cliffhanger where you can see that the game has completely changed. (Rather than, for instance, an old-school Doctor Who cliffhanger where you know they’re going to get out of it within the first two minutes of the next episode through clever means, and then carry on with what they were doing before. And I say that with great love for Doctor Who.)

Why I am cross: Things are looking ominously love triangley. I would like to place a moratorium on love triangles for the next, like, two years. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable term for which to deprive ourselves of love triangles. There is also an attempted rape. Goddammit Laini Taylor, I was just saying hooray about how unrapey your world was. I came very close to throwing the book across the room when this occurred, but luckily I had read the end and remembered what the outcome of that particular event was going to be.

I will definitely still read the third book though. Probably really soon after it comes out. Because of the worldbuilding and crazy plot gambits.

Cf. all these reviews.

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.