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Daughter of Smoke & Bone Series

January 29, 2018

Acting on a hot tip I got from a reader about necromancy in the Laini Taylor series that begins with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, continues with Days of Blood and Starlight, and ends with Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I thoroughly enjoyed not only a long and well-told tale but one of the few direct references to Frankenstein I’ve found in books about the literal reanimation of dead bodies (I’m always looking for more, so please comment if you know a title that’s not already on my list of books in which necromancy never pays).

Even the first sentence of the first book surprised and delighted me, reading this in January:
“Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seems like just another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its Januaryness. It was cold, and it was dark….”

I have to admit that I was not initially charmed by the appearance of what seemed to be a teenaged main character with the strange name of “Karou,” but the story won me over almost immediately, first by rhyming the second syllable of her name with Roo so I could at least pronounce it in my head, second by revealing that she was on her way to art school and already a high school graduate, and third by introducing me to the characters who turn out to be her family by showing me the sketches she draws of them. They are fantastical beasts, and when her friend Zuzana asks how she gets the ideas for these sketches, we are let in on the first of Karou’s secrets, although like her human friend, we don’t quite believe it at first:
“’How do you make this stuff up, maniac?” Zuzana asked, all jealous wonderment.
‘Who says I do? I keep telling you, it’s all real.’
‘Uh-huh. And your hair grows out of your head that color, too.’
‘What? It totally does,’ said Karou, passing a long blue strand through her fingers.
‘Right.’
Karou shrugged and gathered her hair back in a messy coil, stabbing a paintbrush through it to secure it at the nape of her neck. In fact, her hair did grow out of her head that color, pure as ultramarine straight from the paint tube, but that was a truth she told with a certain wry smile, as if she were being absurd. Over the years she’d found out that was all it took, that lazy smile, and she could tell the truth without risk of being believed. It was easier than keeping track of lies, and so it became part of who she was: Karou with her wry smile and crazy imagination.”

There’s a scene in my favorite TV show, Supernatural, when an author calls one of his fans and tells her that he hasn’t been writing fiction, that “it’s all real.” Her response is “I knew it!” That’s what I thought of when I found that Karou’s blue hair and monster family are real.

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The world-building is good, from the very beginning. Even though the monsters are real,
“It wasn’t like in the storybooks. No witches lurked at crossroads disguised as crones, waiting to reward travelers who shared their bread. Genies didn’t burst from lamps, and talking fish didn’t bargain for their lives. In all the world, there was only one place humans could get wishes: Brimstone’s shop. And there was only one currency he accepted. It wasn’t gold, or riddles, or kindness, or any other fairy-tale nonsense, and no, it wasn’t souls, either. It was weirder than any of that.
It was teeth.”

It’s not until halfway through the first book that we begin to find out what Brimstone does with the teeth, and then we learn, with Karou, how he uses them to bring soldiers back from the dead so they can fight again another day.
“Brimstone was a resurrectionist.
He didn’t breathe life back into the torn bodies of the battle-slain; he made bodies. This was the magic wrought in the cathedral under the earth. Out of the merest relics—teeth—Brimstone conjured new bodies in which to sleeve the souls of slain warriors. In this way, the chimaera army held up, year after year, against the superior might of the angels.”

We find out that although Karous looks human in her present form, she is a resurrected chimaera, and her people are at war with the seraph people in a war-torn parallel world called Eretz. All through the first book, Karou has been meeting up with and falling in love with Akiva, who turns out to be a seraph. So their love story is set against a Montague vs Capulet situation in the first book, continues through the second, and is finally consummated at the end of the third.

The second book focuses on what Karou has to do as she takes over Brimstone’s job as the resurrectionist, and how Akiva and her human friends Zuzana and Mik help her. It’s Zuzana who says to her:
“’Holy hell, Karou. You’re making living things. You’re freaking Frankenstein!’
Karou laughed and shook her head. ‘No, I’m not.’ She’d had ample time to consider and discard that comparison. ‘The whole point with Frankenstein is where the soul comes from.’ If a human created ‘life,’ there could be no soul, only a poor benighted monster with no place in the world—or heaven or hell, either, if you were concerned about that, which Karou was not. ‘I have the souls already.’ She pointed to the pile of thuribles. ‘I’m just making the bodies.’”

In the third book, Karou and Akiva manage to bring an end to the war between chimaera and seraph. She says to him
“We have plenty of dead between us, but the way we act, you’d think they were corpses hanging on to our ankles, rather than souls freed to the elements….They’re gone, they can’t be hurt anymore, but we drag their memory around with us, doing our worst in their name, like it’s what they’d want, for us to avenge them? I can’t speak for all the dead, but I know it’s not what I wanted for you, when I died. And I know it’s not what Brimstone wanted for me, or for Eretz.”

There are lots of interesting characters and stories and sacrifices, including how a chimaera called Ziri wore a chimaera general’s body in order to turn the tide of the war and how Eliza, the decendant of a seraph called Elazael, passes on knowledge about the universe to prevent its destruction. There’s a lot about love and war; one of my favorite parts is when magical beings come to kill Akiva because he’s been unknowingly misusing magic, but when they arrive, invisible, they pause because “he smiled as though joy itself had just cornered him in the dark,” thinking it is Karou appearing behind him.

There are a number of conclusions to the tale. At the end of the third book, when Karou and Akiva finally get to the part where they “held on to each other and didn’t let go,” we’re told:
“It was not a happy ending, but a happy middle—at last, after so many fraught beginnings. Their story would be long. Much would be written of them, some of it in verse, some sung, and some in plain prose, in volumes to be penned for the archives of cities not yet built. Against Karou’s express wish, none of it would be dull.”

An easy and fun read for winter nights, this series is full of surprises and delights.

 

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. jumperlass permalink
    January 29, 2018 1:57 pm

    It sounds, a little, related to the Dark Materials series. Does it strike you that way at all?

    • January 29, 2018 2:07 pm

      It did not. I love the Dark Materials series, but they center on the human world, with supernatural elements. These center on the non-human worlds, Eretz and beyond, with only the occasional human element.

  2. January 29, 2018 9:21 pm

    So glad you enjoyed! I had some gripes with the series, but oh my gosh I just loved that Laini Taylor was never afraid to throw everything that had happened so far out the window and just, like, HAVE ALL THE ANGELS DECLARE WAR ON EARTH. I should reread this, it’s such a fun series.

    • January 29, 2018 10:09 pm

      The part where the angels come to earth (and what they wear) is absolutely marvelous and I didn’t mention it because I didn’t want to spoil it even a little bit.

  3. January 30, 2018 6:38 am

    Oh you were so lucky to take on the series when all the books were already out! One of these days I’ll start it again and read all the way through.

    • January 30, 2018 8:02 am

      You should. I would NOT have liked stopping at any point. This really is one big book, divided into handy hand-held chunks.

  4. January 30, 2018 5:24 pm

    You make these sound so appealing! I’m tempted. Also, I love “Supernatural.” I’ve not watched it all (bits and pieces here and there in syndication and slooooowly watching it straight through on Netflix.)

    • January 30, 2018 8:40 pm

      Watching it on Netflix is okay past the first season, but they didn’t buy the rights to the music used in the first season!
      Eleanor and I went to a convention in Vancouver for her 21st birthday, and I have a photo of the two of us with Jared Padalecki.

  5. Jenny permalink
    January 31, 2018 8:22 pm

    I just watched an episode of Black Mirror (season 2, episode 1, “Be Right Back,” in which a sort of necromancy does not pay. I wonder what you would think.

    • January 31, 2018 10:04 pm

      Hmm (steeples fingers speculatively). I might have to watch that episode. I’ve been concentrating on books and aiming to get to the actual writing part for the talk I’m giving on March 15, so after that maybe I can expand back out again. Thanks for the tip!

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