To read Laini Taylor’s beautifully written Daughter Of Smoke And Bone is to be lost in a mesmerizing haze that bewitches your mind and your senses, your heart and your soul, with a visceral magic that is utterly rare.
It’s a YA novel of depth, complexity, violence, darkness, loss, lust and all-consuming love, told with a hypnotic but forceful poetry; it lulls, savages, rages and dreams, as it spins its rich, riveting tale of other worlds in collision with our own.
The narrative centers on a girl named Karou, who has bright blue hair, startling tattoos on her palms, and an extraordinary talent both for drawing, and for being mysterious. She lives in Prague, a city which lives and breathes mysteries and beauty in its light and its architecture even at its most ordinary of moments. In this novel, those moments are rare; for Karou, the city is charged with otherworldiness, things not quite as they might seem, a constant gothic murmur that speaks of ancient folklore.
But Karou is in high school, and the novel sets its “baroque contemporary” tone by opening with some priceless awkwardness as she realizes that the nude model in her life-drawing class is her irritating ex-boyfriend, who so recently broke her heart. In many ways, yes, she’s a teen, with teenage problems and anxieties (homework, boys). There’s just one slight difference; she has magical powers and lives with demons.
That is merely the most surface of details in a novel that steadily, unstoppably fills your head with a dizzying myriad of extraordinary details, like thousands upon thousands of beautifully rendered filigrees in a vast cathedral of stories and worlds. It’s a stunning, breathtaking, at times almost overwhelming experience. A love story is set against a centuries-old war between otherworldly beings; simply referring to them as angels and demons doesn’t do justice to the brutal psychological and emotional clarity of Taylor’s writing. She’s created more than just a world; she’s willed into existence a panoply of beings, religions, creation stories and battles for survival. It’s as though Taylor is channeling hardcore and profound myths from the deepest levels of the collective unconscious, in a manner that leaves the reader reeling. It has a similar impact to Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, leaving you resonating with deeper truths about storytelling and being human; leaving you dreaming furiously.
It’s not just Taylor’s writing, which attains the unusual, hypnotic and stormy cadences and tones of poetry and myth; and not just her perfectly observed, wonderfully nuanced and entrancing characters; it’s her sheer storytelling skills and chops. It’s one thing coming up with a brilliant story; quite another to tell it brilliantly. Most writers are lucky if they can do one of those things. Taylor does both, effortlessly, seamlessly. This is fiction that makes you forget it’s fiction, a book that makes you forget pages are being turned. She knows how to unfold a story, when to deploy information and revelation, how to hook you and draw you in deep.
In short, this is magic of the highest order, spellbinding fiction that absolutely defies any surface categorization of angels, demons, “urban fantasy”, love story… it’s something else; a new magic.
Rating: five out of five spooky tattoos.