Oh, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. What a beautiful read you were. How I enjoyed Karou's witticisms! Her double life as a tooth collector for a wish-mongering chimera, who also happens to be her father figure! How I loved the geographical descriptions of Prague, Marrakesh, and Elsewhere! The severe punishments fallen angels like Razgut go through! The magic system! The imagination involved with all the chimera! I tip my hat, Laini Taylor.
I then put it squarely back on my head when we talk about Akiva. Oh dear god, what a moaner. Let's not forget the second half of this book...You can stop reading now if you just want a mini review. Those are my precise thoughts on this book. I loved a large portion of it, but felt severely let down by elements which could have been executed so much better.
Let's talk about the story. Karou is an art student living in Prague, but all her life, she's been raised by a chimaera known as Brimstone. Brimstone comes from a land Karou only knows as 'Elsewhere', and magic, specifically wishes, are possible. You just have to pay a certain amount depending on the gravity of your wish. Not with coin, but with teeth. The rarer the tooth, the higher denomination of wish it will be. Now, this is a pretty clever idea – especially when you introduce the fact that Brimstone deals with quite a few hunters (whom Karou naturally disapproves of).
However, Karou's little world is soon rocked by Seraphim coming down to Earth and destroying all the portals to Elsewhere! Oh no! Whatever should Karou do? Simple. She picks herself up, and sets off to find whatever leads she can find. She goes to a contact in Marrakesh, gleaning whatever information she can from the fallen angel leeching off his spirit, and while there, is attacked by one of the seraphim who are closing the portal to Elsewhere.
One thing I liked about this novel was that there was no easy resolution. Karou didn't find some magical hidden portal the seraphim forgot to check, nor did she cling to Akiva and beg him to take her with him... I suppose it makes sense as a series, although the ending could have been way better. Hell, the second half of the story is where I mostly take issue with this book.
Yeah, the second half. My copy of the book was roughly 418 pages long, so when I'm not enjoying the other 209 pages as much as the first, I think I have licence to knock off a star or two and complain.
First of all, the writing in the first half is absolutely gorgeous. You feel like you're there in Prague, or in Brimstone's shop, or in Marrakesh. Karou and her friends are fun characters to read, and there's a sense of foreboding that simmers beneath it all. My only complaints would be that some characters are slightly underdeveloped, and I simply wanted to get to know them more!
Petty gripes aside, what was so bad about the second half that I took a sledgehammer to the 4 star rating I was going to give this book from the first part alone?
The story quite simply dug its heels into the ground and refused to move more than a few millimetres. Karou and Akiva awkwardly fall in love, Karou realises she has to go to Marrakesh again, and Akiva winds up in trouble with his siblings. Right when you think this could be used to further the plot, an enormous portion of flashback is inserted. Throughout the novel, Akiva has been brooding about how much he loves Karou because she reminds him of his lost love, a chimaera called Madrigal.
It's here where the story takes a massive detour into the life of Madrigal, and to be honest, while it probably fit the narrative a lot better than other books that try to hint at a mysterious character and then dump their backstory on us, I really didn't get along with it. The world of the chimaera is fascinating, but the story behind their war isn't explained as well as it could be. It's more of a framing device to explain why Madrigal and Akiva cannot be together, in the good old 'star-cross'd lovers' sense. I can't help but feel that this book could have been vastly improved by revealing the flashbacks piecemeal throughout the story. Not just a massive info-dump, which then pops back to Karou and the smouldering whinger Akiva, before rolling out a cliffhanger ending.
It's like if you went to the theatre and saw a really, really good play or musical. The interval curtain goes down, and you have to watch a fairly tedious act take the stage for the next half an hour whilst getting ice cream and drinks from the usher. The play/musical starts up again, and it ends in the next ten minutes. In any case, you'd be rather disappointed. 3/5.