October 24, 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

by Laini Taylor

A fascinating response to Pullman’s His Dark Materials, this is the start of a trilogy about the next Armageddon. Taylor has one of the most economical openings since The Hunt For Red October and uses it to establish that her heroine, Karou, is talented and supernatural and young and in control of her body and her life. We’re coming of age but it’s not about lost virginity.

The first half of this volume is formally a thriller, the second a genre romance. Karou is made for the first and both she and Taylor are sometimes at sea with the latter – especially because the romance gives sparse opportunities for world-building aside from buckets of exposition. We end (as The Golden Compass ends) at the bridge between two worlds, an uneasy resting point at best, but Lyra arrives there through her terrible error while Karou is here because of what her lover has done. The result eerily conjures the pre-teen response to so many movies: can we skip the mushy stuff, since we know how that ends, and get on with it?

The book offers an unforgettable moment when Karou, staring down to enemy angels on a bridge in Prague, finds out that she is of the devil’s party though she did not know it. In fact, the fantasy of the ideal art student in Prague — rich, beautiful, independent, proud, and charmingly vulnerable — is every bit as fine a fantasy as the wings and the magic.