“Daughter of Smoke and Bone” or Tis’ a Sad Day When Postcolonial Theory Is More Interesting than a Love Story Between a Girl with Blue Hair and a Seraph

Let me begin by saying that despite my bias against any YA book that seems to be supernatural for supernatural’s sake, I was looking forward to reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Why? Well, the idea of demons and angels battling it out appeals to me more than it should (Thanks, Catholic school!) and the story centers around such other worldly tensions. Also, it’s written by Laini Taylor who is a National Book Award finalist, AND has a head of shocking, hot pink hair. You’ve got to respect a woman who can pull off both. Finally, the girl on my cover has a blue feathered Carnival mask which I might want to don one of these days. Just sayin’. I’m a sad panda, though, because for as much as Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been touted as a “Best of xxxxx” book, it didn’t manage to seduce me the way a hundreds year old angel can seduce a high school girl. But more on that later.

Smoke

Image by turbojoe (it’s joetime!!!) via Flickr

Who is this girl? Karou is a seventeen year old art school student who lives in Prague. She has the usual YA attributes-beautiful but doesn’t flaunt it, talented but not arrogant, suffering from an identity crisis that makes her wonder who she really, truly is. The unusual thing about Karou is that she’s been raised by a bunch of Chimaera, headed by Brimstone, who sends Karou on exotic errands to pick up teeth. That’s right, teeth. Karou has no idea why he needs them to work his magic and neither does the reader until the very end. (I do have to admit, the mystery of the teeth is one of the most satisfying parts of this book). She’s also unaware that an age-old war between the Seraphim and the Chimaera is about to be reignited, leaving her cut off from the only family she’s ever known. Akiva, a Seraph who battles Karou before falling in love with her, seems to know the answer behind her mysterious upbringing. What to do, what to do, what to do.

Of course you have crazy sexy times with the Seraph! Oops, did I just ruin that for you? Here’s the thing…the core of the book is driven by Karou and Akiva’s inexplicable connection. We’re supposed to swoon. We’re supposed to believe that they were magically, deeply in love with each other from first sight. And though the end does give an interesting reason as to why that is, it all sort of rubs me the wrong way. My margins are covered in the following words: ‘barf,’ ‘cringe,’ really?”

This might lead you to believe that the book is terrible. It’s not. For the most part, the writing is well executed and the world Taylor has created is unique. It’s unfortunate that most of the chapters are centered around this melodrama, especially when the conflict between the Seraphim and the Chimaera are way more interesting than some creepy old dude creepin’ on some girl. (Honestly, this trope has got to stop). In a way, there’s much to learn in Daughter of Smoke and Bone with regards to History, the way it’s written, and the way we’re manipulated by it. There’s even more learn about tensions that arise when two cultures interact, tensions that get worse when one of those believes itself to be superior to the other. Check out this little scene:

“So basically,” she said to Akiva, trying to gather all the things he’d told her into a simple strand, “the seraphim want to rule the world, the chimaera don’t want to be ruled, and that makes them evil.”

His jaw worked; he was displeased with the simplification. “They were nothing but barbarians in mud villages. We gave them light, engineering, the written word–“

“And took nothing for it, I’m sure.”

Oooo, ooo, are we questioning civilizing missions? Can we continue to do that? No, we must hear more about how much they want to bone each other? Boooooo.

The good thing about Daughter, at least, is that the book does get better with each chapter. Once we start to learn the real story behind Karou and Akiva, and the war between this other worldly creatures, the pace picks up considerably. I guess it’s better to start off dully but end with a bang, than the other way around. Still, by the time I reached the inevitable “To Be Continued” on the last page, I felt it was all too little too late. I keep thinking I’m missing something here, considering how well-reviewed it’s been. Maybe a heart? Mwahahahahaha.

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