Daugther of Smoke and Bone is the first book in a series by Laini Taylor that falls into a currently popular genre for teens: Fantastical Romance. I must admit my bias against this genre. In fact, my dislike of it is so strong, that I almost quit reading this book after chapter one. I felt like I was reading Twilight. At times, I had to laugh, and sometimes gag, at the overly dramatic, sensual language. Bias aside, I have friends and family who genuinely enjoy reading this genre. I will not judge you, or hold it against you in any way if you like this genre! 😉 It is just not my thing.
Regardless of the annoying love story, the suspense kept me engaged. The main device that drove the plot forward was the pulse of mystery around the main character, Karou. (Of course, this also added to her sensual appeal–who doesn’t love a mysterious man or woman?) She did not know anything about her origin, and very little about her unique, other-worldly foster parents. While I am not a big connoisseur of mysteries, I do enjoy unraveling one while reading. The mystery, even more so than the love story, holds the book together and drives it forward to its several-chapter-long revelation of her true identity.
I also appreciated the theme of familial love, odd as it was. Karou is raised by mystical creatures, the chimaera. Though they tell her very little about themselves, or where she came from, there is a loyalty and love between them that is admirable. At times, familial love even rivals and wins out against romantic love.
Unfortunately, there is a lot more about this book that I did not find worthwhile.
Unlike a lot of fantastical romances, this book does not deal with vampires and werewolves, rather “angels” and “demons” or what they refer to as seraphs and chimaera, who are clutched together in a a brutal war. This book interprets religious icons loosely and makes religion out to be a human myth–based on human misunderstandings of these beings. There is no Christian message, and the author muddles the idea of good vs. evil when applied to people groups. I actually appreciated this because the author, Laini Taylor, does not do away with the absolutes of good or evil, she just reveals that they are not always as simple as we like to believe. Each side of the war believes they are the “good” side and the other “evil.” Taylor makes it clear that there are still evil people, but they are on both sides of the war, as well as a part of humanity. Good and evil is decided on an individual basis. Too often our world likes to lump people groups together, i.e. the Jews during the Holocaust, or the Japanese Americans during WWII into the categories of “good” and “bad”. I appreciated Taylor clarifying that we can not make that assumption about an entire race, or people group.
While there is not actually any explicit sex scenes, there are plenty of allusions to sex, not to mention pages upon pages of sexual tension. I will commend Karou for regretting how she so easily gave away her virginity to her ex-boyfriend. In that sense, the book does at least advocate waiting for the “right person” and not being hasty. But it by no means advocates waiting until marriage. In fact, though it is not explicit, Madrigal–a chimaera (who Karou ends up to be when the mystery unravels) does have sex many times with Akiva–a seraph/angel.
Here is one example of many of ooey-gooey, mushy language in the book:
Sweetness gave way to something else. Pulse. Pleasure. What overwhelmed Karou was the realness, the deep physical trueness of Akiva–salt and musk and muscle, flame and flesh and heartbeat–the feeling of allness. The taste of him and the feel of him against her lips–his mouth and then his jaw, his neck and the soft place beneath his ear, and how he shivered when she kissed him there, and somehow her hands slipped under his shirt and up, so that only her half gloves were between her hands and his chest. Her fingertips danced over him and he shook and crushed her to him and the kiss was so much more than a kiss now.
Yep. The book oozes sensuality. I am not against romance, but I feel like books such as this one sell girls on a lie about what true love looks and feels like. Not that it isn’t exciting and even sensual, but my goodness, Taylor hits her readers over the head with it at every opportunity.
Throughout the novel Karou feels a sense of emptiness. It turns out to be because she does not fully understand her identity and origin as Madrigal. Nonetheless, it is implied several times in the book, that her loneliness and emptiness can be filled by romantic love. While this is a pervasive and attractive thought, I think it can really send the wrong message to young girls that in order to fill complete, they must find and be intimate with the perfect man. In reality, that is just another fantasy we buy into.
1. War vs. Peace
This was my favorite theme. It hit on the sometimes meaninglessness, wastefulness, and savagery of war. War changes people. War demonizes people. War tears lives apart. The main characters, Karou/Madrigal and Akiva not only find love, but a desire to cultivate peace. Peace and love can bring unity, healing, and understanding.
2. Familial Love vs. Romantic Love
There is a tension between these two from the very beginning. Not only do Karou and Akiva come from opposite sides of a war, but their love demands cutting ties with their families. Akiva, with great heartache, does severe his tie to his siblings. Karou, is more hesitant, especially when she learns what Akiva did to her family (I’ll leave that an enticing mystery for you!).
3. Soul Mates
The romance in this book suggests that there is a soul mate meant for everyone, and their love can overcome all odds . . . Very Shakespearean. The love between Madrigal and Akiva eventually leads Akiva to Karou, once again enforcing the idea that true love conquers all.
As I said before, if you enjoy this genre, than you will probably like this book. However, I would caution parents of teenage girls to be aware that this book not only sends some weird non-religious messages, but it presents a type of sensual love that can mislead young girls. I am never going to promote censorship, but I can honestly say that I will not be advocating this book for any teenage girls. But as their parents, that is your choice, not mine.
Have you read this book or others in this genre? What do you think about the way they present love? Is it fact or fiction, or somewhere in between? More importantly, is it a healthy representation of romantic love?
This is NOT a recommendation, but if you are, for whatever reason, interested in this book, here is a link to it on Amazon. As an Amazon affiliate, I do make a small percentage on the sale (at no extra cost to you), that greatly helps me keep this blog going!