It did not end well.
So begins Daughter of Smoke & Bone, the first in a trilogy by Laini Taylor. It’s the story of Karou, a teenage art student living in Prague, a girl whose mysterious nature baffles and intrigues even her closest friend. She has tattoos, blue hair (which happens to just grow that way), and a way of shrugging off any uncomfortable questions. Karou’s secrets are many. The fantastical creatures she draws in her sketchbook and whose stories she tells her friends are actually real, and raised her. They send her on crazy errands to all corners of the world. Brimstone pays her in wishes. She loves them fiercely. But that doesn’t mean she really knows who they are or how she came to be among them.
It’s also the story of Madrigal, a beautiful creature from among the Chimaera–part animal, part human–who falls in love with Akiva, a Seraph. Their people are at war, but Madrigal saves Akiva’s life on the battlefield. Theirs is one of the most beautiful stories of star-crossed lovers I’ve ever read. As the opening line tells us, it ends badly, causing Akiva to lead a terrible strike against the Chimaera, particularly Karou’s guardian, Brimstone. As her world falls apart, Karou seeks answers to her past more desperately than ever.
I loved so much about this book. Taylor paints gorgeous pictures with her words. I’ve never wanted to visit Prague so badly as I did after reading this. This isn’t a shiny, pretty story. It’s dark, mysterious, but still filled with an incredible overtone of hope and the enduring power of love. It is a love story, a mystery, a dark fantasy. Karou is surprisingly real, given her mysterious origins and unusual occupation. She’s blunt when she’s with those she trusts, talented, has a consistent voice and viewpoint, and is incredibly brave. Her best friend, Zuzana (known to Karou as the “rabid fairy” because of her small size but fiery temper) steals nearly every scene she’s in, and is one of my favorite characters of all time, not only because of her insane skills as a puppeteer. Akiva is wounded, but you know his history and want so badly for him to be redeemed.
It’s been years since I’ve felt so passionately about a series, or read them all so quickly. This first book can stand on its own, but the over-arcing story is worth reading the other two books, though I will warn that they get very dark, and my heart was ripped out about a dozen times over the course of the series. The third installment took some weird turns, but it did still work for me. At the end of this month, I’ll also review the novella Taylor wrote about Zuzana and the violin-playing Mik, Night of Cake & Puppets. It works as a stand-alone, but chronologically takes place between the first two books of the trilogy.
If you’re looking for a fantasy with gorgeous writing, a romantic plot, but still with a lot of dark and sometimes bloody business, this is the series for you! Feel free to share your favorite stories of star-crossed lovers in the comments.