Where do I start? How do I even begin to review one of my favourite trilogies of all time? All I can start with is magic.
That’s what this series is: pure and simple magic. Sure there are other themes: love, loyalty, some clever tie-ins with religion and mythology, but that’s nothing compared to the extraordinary magical world that Laini Taylor has created. Stylist magazine called it “Northern Lights and Pan’s Labyrinth in one” and I have to say I agree entirely.
The story begins in Prague which, already quite a mystical place itself, turned out to be an incredible setting for the story. It’s not often I find myself marvelling at how site-specific a piece of Young Adult literature can be, and quite often the setting of a book doesn’t matter in the slightest. But now I can’t imagine Daughter of Smoke and Bone beginning anywhere else but the enchanting city of Prague.
“The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century – or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plasterwork and caped in roofs of uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.”
Fuck me, man, the imagery that Laini Taylor can concoct. It’s fantastical and eerily presented. It’s a different setting. Having a cast of Czech characters is different to the American high-schoolers that dominate YA literature these days. And speaking of characters..
Karou is our young
Mary Sue protagonist and I have to say I love the way she looks in my head if nothing else. She’s an inked, blue-haired, black-eyed artist with a bird-like quality to her and a ton of secrets. She has tattoos of eyes on her palms and wears a necklace made entirely of wishes. There is most certainly an alternative fairy tale vibe to her, which is a big reason why her story drew me in. Though she is quite undeniably a Mary Sue heroine who everyone and their mother falls for, she’s still a good egg in the end and far from the only character worth hearing about.
Akiva is our smoking hot (and I mean that quite literally) seraph love-interest. He’s deep and tortured, which admittedly is annoyingly typical for the genre, but he’s not a knob! He’s no Raffe from the Penryn and the End of Days series (seriously that series is so flawless it’s almost annoying), but as far as angel love interests go he’s one of the good ‘uns. He is a very well crafted character, with plenty of good bits and weaknesses to match and boy is he swoon-worthy. Interestingly enough though, the main love story is not, in my opinion, the best one in the trilogy…
Mik and Zuzana are an excellent example of this. They have been dubbed by the fandom the best secondary characters of all time and they really are second to none. They’re the kind of sidekicks that are so kick ass and funny they tend to steal the limelight, and they just so happen to have the fucking cutest romance I’ve ever seen.
“What a lovely display of personhood. He’s like a good book cover that grabs your gaze. Read me. I’m fun but smart. You won’t be able to put me down.”
There really are a thousand and one other characters though and more get introduced as the books continue. Since they mostly have quite quirky and fantastical names sometimes it’s bloody hard to keep track of who’s who. But luckily the characters that matter are so distinct you never truly get lost. It’s impossible to forget Brimstone, the ram-headed Wishmonger who collects teeth, or the Naja-woman Issa who wears no clothes only decorates herself with snakes. They characters in this are so beautifully imagined, and they match the enticing world-building and gripping story to a T.
That’s another thing, the story itself. By the godstars it is gripping. Laini Taylor creates so much intrigue in the first book, so many questions that seem so unanswerable. Who is this mysterious protagonist and what is her link to an angel? What is this magical other world in which Brimstone lives and fabricates wishes? Actually scratch that, how is that possible would be a better question. And what the hell is he doing with all of those fucking teeth? Most, if not all, questions are answered in the first book, so the intrigue dies down in the second installment of the series, Days of Blood and Starlight. As a result the book does drag a bit and sometimes feel like filler, especially as we’re introduced to even more characters and are privy to many chapters in their point of view, a writing technique I have never been fond of but can’t deny its uses on occasion. Still, when you’re in the middle of an excellent scene with your favourite characters and then you’re shoved into the POV of some character you don’t give to feathered fucks about, sometimes you get a bit miffed.
But Laini Taylor brings back the amazingly crafted suspense and intrigue in book three, Dreams of Gods and Monsters and though I found it the least enjoyable of the three, I was still immensely satisfied by the storytelling.
But by the godstars Karou and Akiva do love to just stare into each others’ eyes from across a room! I think if anything really annoyed me about the series it would be the amount of times that happens, equal to the incredible passiveness of the first half of the final book. At that point you know what you want from the final point in the trilogy: I wanted more Zuzana and Mik, I wanted some action and to feel satisfied with the ultimate crux of the trilogy. I didn’t want 300 pages of fuck-all action, even more exposition and goddamn teasing! And I had completely had it up to here with the amount of reflection going on in the books at that point. It was complete bollocks: there’s some serious plot-related shit going down, but no we have to endure chapter after chapter about exactly and very precisely how each character is feeling at that moment, before rehashing the same scene again from an alternative POV to establish that, yes, this character also has feelings about the current predicament and here they are at great length. I enjoy those parts of a book, I really do, but I have a max. capacity and I was seriously overflowing from all the bullshit emotions in this series. By book three I just did not have the time.
Thank the godstars it’s well-written because we’d have a massive problem if it weren’t, Laini Taylor.
It really is well-written, though. It’s the kind of book that reminds me that purple prose can be gorgeous if used the right way. Every word is lyrical and so expertly chosen. I never felt bored or bullshitted by the prose and never was a complex word used in a way that made me lose touch of the story I was in. It was remarkably enveloping and just made the world Laini Taylor built come to life. Even the parts that aren’t purple prose are sometimes so poignant you just have to make a note of it and put it in your pocket for later.
“The two of them were stoic and stone-faced and ten feet apart, currently not even looking at each other, but Zuzana had the impression of a pair of magnets pretending not to be magnets. Which, you know, only works until it doesn’t.”
It’s just such a wonderfully encapsulating read, guys. The story is so deliriously mystical, so clever and intriguing, you can never ever tell where it’s going to go. The characters are memorable and lovable, even
Mary Sue Karou. And it’s all so exquisitely written it’s just the cherry on the top of a red velvet cake.
Read it if you’re one for a love story or three. Read it if you love magic and originality. Read it if you want to be blown away by plot and a suspenseful yet elegant narrative. Read it because you love yourself and this book loves you.