Saturday, 19 January 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor has got to be one of the best new fantasy writers around at the moment.

First, in 2011, there came Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which was introduced to me care of the publisher, Hodder and Stoughton’s, nice little marketing campaign: a plain-bound proof with virtually no plot details, and a feather. A real feather floating out of its envelope. And inside the book I discovered a character and a world that gripped and amazed me. This is a book that truly crosses over; one of those stories that doesn’t begin overtly as a fantasy novel and so will win its way into the hearts of any die-hard anti-fantasy reader, before turning on them to become something else altogether.

And now Laini has written part two of her trilogy, Days of Blood and Starlight, which takes what she began in Daughter, both continuing her story and introducing a whole new level of awesomeness and new dimensions.

In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, we meet Karou. She leads a strange sort of double life.   Living in Prague, going to art school, hanging out and laughing with her friends. But Karou has no parents or family; instead she has Brimstone. She was raised by him, taught by him, cared for by him. But Brimstone is clearly not of this world: horned, eyes like a crocodile, bestower of magic, he lives and works in a shop that is ‘Elsewhere’, endlessly stringing teeth onto necklaces. Where is Elsewhere? Who is Brimstone? And what does he do with all those teeth? Karou is boiling over with answered questions about this part of her life, but they always go unanswered. Until she sneaks out the other door to his shop and sees... things she can explain even less. And then it gets worse: after she returns to Prague, the door to Brimstone’s shop is sealed. Will Karou ever see him again? And will she get the answers she needs?

Adventure, mystery, love story, war story, and everything in between, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is simply fabulous. Taylor turns our preconceptions of good and evil on their heads, and creating a world that is by turns breathtaking and terrifying. And she absolutely follows up the good work in Days of Blood and Starlight. By the beginning of book two, Karou has uncovered both her hidden history, that of Brimstone, and that of her lover Akiva too. In some ways she is now whole and wholly understanding, but the last revelation that Akiva throws at her leaves her reeling and lost - and in the perfect place to be preyed upon by the manipulative Thiago. How much of what Thiago tells Karou is truth and how much is lies?

Days of Blood and Starlight finds Karou and Akiva caught up in the rivalries of their peoples, each of them lost and alone and struggling to find again the things they used to believe in. They hopelessly entangled in a war on that feels like its on biggest scale imaginable, yet its about to get a whole lot bigger. I don’t want to give away all the careful plot details, but this is a story that just gets better and better. How Taylor came up with her ideas and her story arc is beyond me; it is just awesome. The secrets and lies that everyone weaves, the political machinations, the world-building; every part is just brilliant, flawlessly constructed and perfectly written. The story moves at quite a pace and by the time the end of the book is near, Taylor has introduced several new dimensions to the overall picture, setting up a really intriguing launchpad for the final part of the trilogy.

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