Karou is not like other seventeen-year-old girls. By day, she studies art in Prague with her friend Zuzana and lives in a cozy flat full of books. By night, she runs errands for a monster named Brimstone – the monster who raised her (not unlovingly) from infancy while never truly divulging the truth behind her existence. Brimstone and his associates collect teeth – wolf teeth, bear teeth, even human teeth – in exchange for wishes. Where Brimstone gets the wishes, and why he needs the teeth, have always been mysteries to Karou.
Karou’s work for Brimstone takes her all over the world, and she receives wishes in return (albeit small ones), but for all that he’s the closest family she has, Brimstone’s never confided the secret of his mission to her. That is, until strange black handprints start appearing on all the portals to Brimstone’s lair, and Karou finds her employment unexpectedly and violently terminated by Brimstone himself. Cut off from her strange but loving monster family, Karou has to search for the answers on her own, about who she is, why her monsters are in danger, and why a strange, winged man with burning eyes has started following her.
It’s no surprise that this stunningly beautiful and romantic novel should come from Laini Taylor, the deft writer of the Faeries of Dreamdark series. Every carefully chosen word gleams like a pearl on a string, coming together in gorgeous phrases that can evoke both the glorious, strange aspects of Karou’s life (her errands for Brimstone, her use of wishes) as well as the everyday, heartfelt pangs of teenage angst (her inability to share her secret life with her school friends, her loneliness, her understandable spite for a petty ex-boyfriend).
Karou has to balance both realities in her life, just as the novel toes the line between reality and fantasy. Karou is a marvellous heroine, grounded, intelligent and spectacularly competent in her own self-defense (thank God!) – but still plagued by insecurities surrounding who she is, why her life is so different from everyone else’s, and if she can continue trusting people about whom she knows so little.
The novel, meanwhile, reveals a lushly described and original fantasy world replete with secrets and alliances and tragic histories. At the same time, Laini Taylor wisely keeps the fantastical nature of such settings and scenes from overwhelming the inner turmoil and developments of its primary characters. While Taylor applies a darker tone to Daughter of Smoke and Bone than she did with her younger-oriented Faeries of Dreamdark, her pacing and writing style still strike a strident, youthful chord.
Simply put, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is brilliant, terrifying and deeply weird, a thrilling and satisfying blend of human emotion and bare determination set against an epic backdrop of the strange and wonderful.
(Little, Brown and Company, 2011)