In which it becomes clear that I'm a bit of a "ho" for pretty, yet easy-to-read prose.
I really enjoyed Laini Taylor's short story (novella, really) compilation, Lips Touch, Three Times. The stories therein weren't perfect, but the evocative, lush and accessible prose, along with interesting setting, sold me.
Hence, the five-stars for Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I'd be the first to argue that the story isn't perfect and in fact, the plot is simplistic and lacking significant urgency. But, like Alice Hoffman, Taylor hooks me with her style. Or maybe, when I read this, I was just in the mood for a seriously girly-girl romance.
Karou is a young woman (teen) living in Prague and studying art at a local institute. (Okay, so here's another selling point for me. Art. I'm an artist and I can totally relate to burning desire to draw the world around you.) She lives on her own, surviving off a mysterious benefactor, and enjoying the kind of bohemian life I (yes, I) would have dreamed of as a teen. This, again, is probably a big selling point for me. I hated my high school and hometown. It was a blah border town populated by a population of people with absolutely no imagination. (Honestly, years later, I still think this is true; haven't been back in decades.)
So, obviously, Karou's world feels utter enchanting. A school for the arts. Hanging out in eclectic cafes with your cool, and pithy best friend. Living in an big city that throbs with history. Yeah, this tweaks all my inner (and not too inner) teenage angst.
Early on, it's obvious that Karou isn't ordinary. She's been raised by a strange collection of demon-like chimera, including the fearsome Brimstone. On her off time, she runs errands for Brimstone, traveling to the far corners of the world, risking life and limb, in search of teeth. Yeppers. Teeth. Though she asks, Brimstone refuses to tell her what he does with these teeth.
The answer arrives in the form of Akiva, a beautiful, winged young man who Karou encounters and subsequently battles in Marrakesh. And so begins a love story that goes back into another lifetime, into a far away world where angels and demons (chimera) are locked in an ancient, never-ending battle. And so too, comes the truth behind the teeth.
On its face, the story may seem to have parallels to Twilight, what with the immortal boy falling for the mortal girl scenario. Karou, however, isn't entirely mortal (I wouldn't call that a spoiler, but a "well d'uh") and really isn't in need of being rescued from her tedious, middle American life. Unlike, cough, Bella Swan, she isn't a passive observer in the story. Karou and Akiva's love story is straightforward enough (on Earth and beyond), but Akiva doesn't step in to act like a creepy father figure (cough, Edward). In the end, Karou makes a decision that is anything but the schmoping, "I'll die without him," theatrics of Bella Swan. Karou is perfectly capable of defending herself and, even better, no sweet little virgin with sexual hangups.
Of course, another selling point for me is that the story departs from the usual black and white, angels are good, demons are bad, characterizations and introduces a world where neither side is truly right and where the demons' grievances are more than a little justified.
The weak point probably is Akiva who is beautiful and...beautiful, but not much else. The narrative makes an attempt to deepen his characterization, but I never really fell in love with him. I've certainly read blander pretty boys, but Akiva isn't terribly memorable.
It's plagued by romances usual cliches (impossibly beautiful people in love) but it worked for me. Looking forward to the sequel.