With only a little exposure to her work, I’m already a fan of Laini Taylor‘s words. Her evocations of character and place, particularly in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, are sumptuous and possess the brilliant clarity of a portrait etched in glass. If you’re fond of reading beautiful things and you like romantic YA fantasy, this is a good book for you.
There were several pieces of this book that made me bounce, but I think most of them are because I’m not this book’s target audience. For example…
I think I might have liked this book more when I felt less jaded. There is a lush giddiness to the emotions—specifically the romantic ones—that wasn’t for me. It read to me like erotica for people whose kink is a very particular form of romance, complete with tropes that I dislike. That’s okay, and I won’t shame people for liking something I don’t; clearly this book was written for people who do like those things.
Secondly, structurally, the book is constructed in segments which jump perspective, time, and place. I think they’re arranged usefully, the way they should be for their narrative purposes, but their construction and placement didn’t effectively build the growing tension I want to feel as a novel’s plot progresses. There were little peaks of tension, but the switches often backed the story away from them rather than building on them. I think those shifts make sense, especially given that this book has a lot of story to tell and ends with a “To Be Continued,” but the loss of tension still grated on me like a missed opportunity.
To be clear, maintaining tension through such perspective shifts is difficult. Furthermore, it’s possible that the bleeding of tension was intended. My preferences are not universally shared; some people like more of that variance in plot tempo.
Setting those personal grumps aside, I have to add that I’m really curious to know more about the worlds that Taylor has made here. I’ll read more of her work just to see how she conjures character and locale and snags her readers, but I also want to see what else she has in store with the tragic setting and background she’s established in this first book. Fortunately for me, sequels already exist.
Beyond that, I want to mention that this book is also worth reading for me to broaden my own perspective. Reading the experience of being romantically and sexually pursued—and offered up as a sex object—is useful to me as a writer and a human. It’s a heavily gendered experience in our society, and not one to which I have much access otherwise. Taylor is able to make some of that accessible here, for which I am grateful.
In conclusion? Laini Taylor conjures forth character and place with beautiful words and great skill. And if you like romantic YA fantasy, or aren’t as grumpy about romance tropes as I am, I suspect you’ll love this book.