Monday, October 17, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I am a pretty fast reader, but I forced myself to slow down while I was reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone; I didn’t want to miss a single exquisite word.  (And it’s might be a while before the next book in the trilogy comes out, so I had to make it last.)  Laini Taylor strikes a tonal balance that makes you feel as if you are reading a traditional folktale retold by a modern writer who seriously respects the story’s roots.  The world building and the characters are also absolutely amazing, but what really feels unique is the way Taylor reveals that world and those characters, peeling back the layers one by one.  Or, to use a metaphor appropriate to the book, flipping through the pages of main character Karou’s sketch book, revealing a new piece of the story in every drawing.

At the start of the novel, Laini introduces readers to Karou’s father figure Brimstone, who has horns and deals in wishes, and to an angel who is marking Brimstone’s portals into this world in order to bring about the end.  These glimmers of information play on our knowledge of Judeo-Christian theology to make us think that we know what is going on: Karou’s father is the devil, and the angels are bringing about end times.  But Brimstone himself warns that human religion is only a patchwork of things overheard, and we learn very soon that the story is much more complex than human ideas of heaven versus hell. 

In addition to her skill with revelations, Taylor is also able to make a typical plot, a boy and girl falling in love, seem fresh.  She completely rehabilitates the clichéd phrase “butterflies in your stomach,” giving the old words new power.  And Karou’s love for the angel Akiva incorporates the somewhat creepy aspects of other YA love stories—young girl falling suddenly and completely for much older guy, who only looks young, even though she has only known him for a few days—but transforms them into logical and essential plot elements.

But the novel is more than the sum of its satisfying mechanics; it is completely suffused with hope.  Hope keeps all of the characters going, and even Brimstone the wish master says that it is better than wishes, which are fleeting things. They either come true or don’t, but either way, they are gone. 

Hope is in your head and heart always.  It is too big for one simple wish.  You work for your hopes, laboring so that one day they might become reality.  And even if you have lost everything, like Pandora once did, like Karou has at the end of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, hope remains, giving off enough light to guide you on your journey to gather all that you have lost back inside yourself where it belongs.

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