Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What I Read: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Almost every time I go to the library now they say "oh, you're Sarah" when I ask for my holds and then ask me if I want a list of what I currently have checked out because there are so many. I always politely and self-consciously decline because I am well aware of what I have checked out. And I check the list online on the reg to make sure nothing is overdue. My bibliophilia knows no bounds.


"In the cycle of slaughter, reprisal begat reprisal."

It is really difficult to take a picture of a library book with a shiny protective cover. Ugh.
Anyway, last night I finished reading Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone and I wasn't really sure how to being writing about it. Laini Taylor is definitely one of my new favorite writers and I really look forward to reading whatever else she writes. She is a master storyteller and a true wordsmith. When I was younger I was a book snob and would only read modern literature and while I still am partial to this genre and have also grown quite fond of young adult fantasy (especially urban fantasy) over the years. The problem is that so much of it sucks and it takes some sifting through the crap to find the gems. Ever since Harry Potter and Twilight became wildly popular I feel like everybody and their brother are writing young adult fantasy fiction to try to capitalize on this popularity and so much of it is bland, predictable drivel, so it is really exciting to me to discover a talent like Taylor and I wholeheartedly thank my hairdresser, who knows her fantasy fiction, for the recommendation.

"Mercy, she had discovered, made mad alchemy: a drop of it could dilute a lake of hate."

Following the core-shaking ending to Daughter of Smoke and Bone I felt that Days of Blood and Starlight had a bit of a slow start, but I read them back-to-back and probably wouldn't have felt that way if I'd read them when they were published with the requisite time in between. I'm really afraid to write more about it because I don't want to ruin the story for anyone else who might want to read it, but I will say that some great new characters are introduced that become as equally beloved as Karou, Akiva, Zuzana, and Mik. Also, Taylor obliterates everything the reader thinks might happen and many times I felt these characters I had grown to love were in impossible situations and then Taylor spins the tale in such a way that I thought there may be hope after all. And it didn't feel forced or unbelievable and I find that really refreshing, especially in this tired and overwrought genre. And hope is really the point of this story. Taylor has challenged what it means to be an enemy and crafted characters who dare to hope for something better in the face of impossible odds.

"Because it was not Akiva beside her. Of course it wasn't, and what ran through Karou's mind in that instant was bitterness, a double pang: one for when she thought it was him. And one for when she realized it wasn't." 

I am so excited that Karou is a strong, independent character. A lot of books in this genre have a love story angle that is all consuming for the girl in the book and it comes to define her. I find this really annoying personally, but I also don't think it is the best message for the target demographic. I was really excited about the Hunger Games trilogy because I thought Katniss was finally going to be the heroine I have been looking for and I definitely enjoyed reading those books, but in the end I was left feeling deflated, defeated, and uninspired. Maybe the ending of the Hunger Games is realistic. How can one person deal with so much heartbreak and not be crushed and broken? And I sometimes like reading things that feel like tragedy, but the ending of that story just felt wrong. So far, Karou is the perfect heroine. She is strong and determined, but doubts herself at times. She is flawed and relatable and I found myself identifying with her and rooting for her even though I have, obviously, never been in her position. She is a real girl with the weight of two worlds on her shoulders. So, I am super excited to see where this story will go in the last installment and even with all the plot twists and turns, Taylor has not left me feeling dissatisfied yet. I read the acknowledgements at the end of this one, which I never do, because I wasn't ready for it to be over.  I read that the final book isn't due out until sometime in 2014 and while I will be waiting impatiently, I am glad Taylor is taking the time she needs to do justice to the ending.

"The grief left her face, resignation settling her features into an unnatural calm. Akiva understood that she was ready to die."

While I am loving these books I will say that stories with battles and armor and fight scenes are really not my bag and all. In fact, I am usually immediately turned off by stories with these plot elements, so I want to tell you that if you feel the same way don't let it prevent you from reading these books. The battle scenes are beautifully crafted and integral to the storyline. Also, since I am only a visitor to the fantasy genre, I oftentimes have trouble wrapping my head around the pronunciation of the names of people, places, and things in these books. Characters and cities are often named using a fantastical language and don't seem to roll off the tongue and, speaking for myself, it can take some getting used to. This book takes it a step further by having characters additionally named in Czech and the constant use of unfamiliar (to me) weaponry. There is a fight scene in the beginning and one character was using a poleax. My brain kept wanting to pronounce this Po-lee-ax, which makes no sense and was very distracting. Turns out it is pronounced Po-laks or Pole-axe depending on the source. "Po-laks" feels distinctly European, while "Pole-axe", feels more natural to my native American South tongue. A poleax is a short-handled spiked axe with a blade on one side. Now we all can say we know a little something about medieval weaponry. Also, am I the only one who thinks "medieval" is a hard word to spell? My brain slows down to a crawl every time I have to type it...which is becoming surprisingly often.

Poleax on a Lithuanian coat of arms via Wikimedia Commons. You can see a picture of a real 15th century one at Museum Syndicate.

Finally, I have an affinity for space, which I will tell you all about in my upcoming Star Wars post (you can hardly contain your excitement, am I right?) and on that digression I will leave you with my favorite passage from this book:

"She pictured the moon's racing swerve around the world, and the world's hurtling course around the sun, and the glitter of the stars in their That was illusion, too, just as the rising and setting of the sun was a trick. It was the world that moved, not the stars, not the sun. The sky moved, panning across that vastness as it rolled through space, hurtling end over end, and that hurtling was what kept her pinned here. One of billions." -Laini Taylor

Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you know your way around a poleax? Tell me all about it. 

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