Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What I Read: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first in a trilogy and the first I've read by Laini Taylor. I definitely want to go back and read her Lips Touch: Three Times, a National Book Award Finalist. Let me tell you, she does some very fancy footwork with the plot in this tome and it is genius. Genius! I am so glad that I went ahead and reserved the second one at the library so I can begin it immediately.

"She tastes like nectar and salt. Nectar and salt and apples. Pollen and stars and hinges. She tastes like fairy tales. Swan maiden at midnight. Cream on the tip of a fox's tongue. She tastes like hope."

This novel is about a human girl named Karou, living a sort of gypsy life, but temporarily settled in modern day Prague, Czech Republic. She has no memory of her parents or where she came from, just that she was raised by Chimaera, a conglomerate of various races of supernatural human/animal hybrids from another realm who consort with humans on the fringes of society conducting secret business to which she is not privy. She is tough, curious, and independent. She is an artist and and she has been trained in the martial arts. She's seventeen years old, but she feels older and more mature. Her character development is perfect and I at once believed that she is was teenager and that she wasn't. I was so curious to know about her past. 

Illustration of Karou by Jim Di Bartolo. Via Smoke and Bone Wiki.

"A bruxis. That was the one wish more powerful than a gavriel, and its trade value was singular: The only way to purchase one was with one's own teeth. All of them, self-extracted."

Karou was primarily raised by a Chimaera shopkeeper of sorts who deals in the business of teeth and wishes. Meaning, people will bring him teeth, both animal and human, and he pays them in wishes. Karou sometimes assists in these trades by acting as messenger and picking up teeth from various trusted suppliers around the world. Karou has no idea for what the Chimaera use the teeth even though she had witnessed some of the harvesting. One pickup assignment takes her to a market in Marrakesh, where she comes face to face with Akiva. 

"Enemy. Enemy. Enemy. The knowledge pounded through her on the rhythm of her heartbeat: the fire-eyed stranger was the enemy... She was caught between the urge to flee and the fear of turning her back on him."

The Chimaera have been in a war with angels, the Seraphim, for millennia and even though neither side remembers why they are fighting and their legends blame the others, natch, they still battle in the name of vengeance. The Chimaera think the Seraphim are narcissistic overlords and the Seraphim believe the Chimaera to be dim-witted beasts. Anyway, events are set in motion that thrust Karou to the center of this age-old disagreement. She learns about her past and the value of magic, hope, and wishes.

In one description of Chimaera they are likened to figures from a Hieronymous Bosch painting.

"...and when he turned away she experienced a sudden unspooling, like the snap of a cable and all her restraints giving way, and she couldn't bear it anymore."

Both the writing and the storytelling in this book are impeccable. The plot took some really unexpected turns, especially near the end, but they all work. It seems like a tired old trope that two people from opposing sides of a deep-seated* and ill-remembered squabble would fall in love. Star-crossed lovers, if you will. But Taylor manages to tell the story in a way that is entirely new and fresh. And heartbreaking. Actually, it is really trite to describe the story this way. There is much more to it that that and after reading only the first book in a planned trilogy I am feeling a little hesitant to define it in these terms. I felt seriously jolted at the end. Pleasantly discomforted. Is that a thing?

Text I sent to my girl Lacey immediately upon finishing.
Have you read this? What did you think? Do you like young adult urban fantasy as much as I apparently do? Care to make any recommendations? Are you excited for the movie?

*I had to look this term up. I say it all the time, but had never written it out and was unsure if the correct term was deep-seated or deep-seeded. I am inclined to use deep-seated, like an idea or feeling that is seated deep in your being. But deep-seeded makes sense too, like firmly-rooted. Thankfully, Grammarist was able to settle my deep-seated internal debate by stating that the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "having its seat far beneath the surface." Language Log has a good discussion of the confusion, humorously, in my humble opinion, citing Fox News as using it incorrectly.

P.S.: On a separate note, I learned in this book that shark fetuses will compete in the womb and cannibalize each other. I had never heard this before and thought it was morbidly, gruesomely fascinating, albeit evolutionarily counter-productive. Or is it properly Darwinian? When I told Donnie he was like, "duh, everybody knows that." Maybe if you are terrified of sharks a shark enthusiast like him. It is called intrauterine cannibalism. You can read about it here and here. In honor of my learning this new fact I will leave you with a new word for your vocab: Adelphophagy: eating one's own brother. You're welcome and I hope you have no other occasion to use it besides when discussing baby cannibal sharks.  

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