Monday, February 13, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Book Review

Author: Laini Taylor. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 97800316134023.
Annotation: Karou lives in Prague and is perfectly content with her dual-existence: to the outside world she is a seventeen-year-old art student, but in reality her family are chimaera, part-human, part-beast, who inhabit a land simply called Elsewhere. Raised in a shop who’s owner, Brimstone, trades wishes for teeth, Karou has spent her life travelling the globe, running errands for Brimstone, never quite understanding the nature of the “family business.” After the Prague door that leads to Elsewhere is mysteriously set ablaze, however, Karou must work to uncover the truth that can reunite her with her family.
Personal thoughts: I had heard a great deal about this novel before finally picking it up, and after reading it, understand what the hype was about! Although it took me more than a few chapters to really get into it, once I began to understand and care about the characters, I was hooked! I am really impressed with what Laini Taylor managed to create in a novel for young adults. The settings were so rich and interesting and her characters so well-developed. I am really looking forward to seeing where this series goes, and imagine that it has a lot of popularity and success on the horizon.  
Plot summary: Karou leads an unconventional double life.  To the outside world, she is a quirky but otherwise normal seventeen-year-old art student living in Prague. Her best friend, Zuzana, doesn’t question the strange stories she tells her about a group of half-human, half-beasts called chimaera that fill Karou’s sketchbooks, chalking them up to her over-active imagination. In fact, the chimaera that Karou sketches are real. Raised in their mysterious shop in a place they refer to simply as “Elsewhere,” Brimstone, part-man, part-ram, Issa, half-snake, half-woman, giraffe-necked Twiga, and parrot-beaked Yasri are her strange but loving family. Karou has never fully understood the nature of the shop, only that Brimstone trades teeth for wishes brought to him by people, and creatures, from around the world. Brimstone often sends Karou on errands to retrieve teeth as well, the door of his shop opening to cities across the globe, allowing her to travel to Hong Kong at lunch and return to her Prague flat for dinner. Karou’s happy existence changes, however, when, to her horror, she discovers the Prague door to Brimstone’s shop is engulfed in a blazing inferno. Unable to reach her family to determine if they are still alive, Karou sets out to learn the truth about Brimstone’s shop, and how she can return to Elsewhere to make sure her family is safe. Her dangerous new mission eventually leads her to Akiva, a seraphim, who’s race are eternal enemies with the chimaera. Karou realizes that Akiva had something to do with the attack on Brimstone’s shop, but is still inexplicably drawn to the beautiful angel. As more and more of the purpose of Brimstone’s activities is revealed, Karou begins to wonder who she truly is, and how she has come to be at the middle of a centuries long war between chimaera and seraphim.
Review:  Part fantasy, part action-adventure, part romance, this highly acclaimed first installment in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is as varied, and whimsical, as the beasts that form the crux of the story. Set primarily in Prague, a city not often featured in young adult literature, the novel focuses on Karou, a funky, confident art student with a very strange family. In the first chapters of the book, readers might be somewhat confused by exactly what is going on with Karou’s double-life. The strange characters who inhabit the shop in Elsewhere are a bit muddled at first, causing re-reading of the paragraphs that describe exactly who they are and what they look like. Once this gets sorted out, which it eventually does after about the first third of the novel, the reader is plunged into the unique and intricate world that author Laini Taylor has created in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Full of lore, history, and legend entirely unique to this story, the author does not rely on the work of others at all in imagining an original world that will undoubtedly remain effective throughout the following installments in the series. What the author manages to accomplish in a mere 400 pages is very impressive, and is clearly the reason that Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been such a success. The relationships between Karou and the various characters in the novel, from spunky best friend Zuzana, to arrogant ex-boyfriend Kaz, to trouble seraphim Akiva, are all well developed and interesting. The conclusion of the story also lends itself very well to readers clambering to pick up the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, set to be released in September of 2012. Overall, an intriguing and original start to an enjoyable new series for young adults.
Genre: Science-Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff, Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs, Misfit by Jon Skovron.
Themes:  Mythology, angels, mythological creatures, family, betrayal, romance.   
Awards/Reviews:  Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. Positive reviews from Booklist, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly. Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011.
Series Information: First installment in Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Second installment, Days of Blood and Starlight, set to be released in September 2012.
Discussion questions: 
-     Did your impressions of Brimstone’s shop change throughout the novel? How?
-    If you had Karou’s necklace of wishes, how would you use it?
-     Why do you think Karou was able to talk openly about Elsewhere and her family without anyone believing she was telling the truth?
-     What do you think is the significance of the wishbone?
-     Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?

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