Days Of Blood And Starlight: Unstoppable Momentum & Atmospheric Power AKA THIS BOOK WILL OWN YOU

This is that rarest of creatures: a sequel that bests the original. Just to put that in context, Daughter Of Smoke And Bone was one of the greatest YA novels ever written, a burningly brilliant and resonant story that seared the senses with its gorgeous intensity.

Days Of Blood And Starlight is better.

Yep, I said it.

Days Of Blood And Starlight

Days Of Blood And Starlight

Laini Taylor proves herself to be an extraordinary resurrectionist. Creating a new literary creature more powerful than any before it. She has upped the emotional intensity, sharpened the sarcasm and brutal wit, exponentially increased the sheer B-movie monster awesomeness of it all, supercharged the zingers and snark, and, somehow, impossibly, she has taken her incredible gift of subtle, moving and fearsome character work to a whole new level. And of all this is presented in a glittering, hypnotic and sensual style that steals into the senses and makes you something other than what you were.

What the hell, Laini Taylor? How did you get so much more awesome than you were before? How did you take your huge canvas from Smoke And Bone and then make us realize that it was just a tiny corner of the vast universe you were actually working on? How did you trick us into believing Smoke And Bone was a deluxe, widescreen theater experience (which was so much bigger than anything else we were reading), when really it was like an YouTube video on an iPhone 3 compared to the IMAX scale of Blood And Starlight?

How did you change the way I looked at YA, and at books and writing in general… And then change it AGAIN with this?

Days Of Blood And Starlight (UK Cover)

Days Of Blood And Starlight (UK Cover)

The expansion from book one to book two is even more impressive when you consider that the story is much more focused, in time, in place, in intensity. And yet Taylor spins magical realms from the smallest of details. Those realms are not merely other worlds, but also emotional truths, physical realities. Her writing is heady, stunning, and mesmeric. These are characters and worlds that once you inhabit them, inhabit you. Putting this book down is an impossibility; your heart and soul just will not allow it.

Plot is all in Blood And Starlight, so I shall give none of it away here. All you need to know is that the stakes are radically higher, the emotions are turbo-charged and relentless, the atmospheric power of the novel is off the charts, and Taylor keeps everything tight, controlled and focused with extreme screenplay skill. Not a single word is wasted; everything charges forward, in the manner of an exhilarating but terrifying rollercoaster. It’s almost too much to take in because you power through it so quickly. The incredible views flash past because there’s no stopping the momentum.

Just read it. Love it. And then wait, helplessly, for the next one, your mind and body singing, reeling, resonating. And good luck starting any books after this; because after this, nothing is quite the same.

Rating: Five out of five chimeras

Breathless Reads Tour Recap

I was recently very fortunate to attend one of the dates on the Breathless Reads tour. This was Penguin Teens awesome lineup of YA sci-fi authors Marie Lu (LEGEND) and Beth Revis (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE), and YA fantasy authors Jessica Spotswood (BORN WICKED) and Andrea Cremer (NIGHTSHADE). I’m pretty sure you won’t find a smarter, more talented or more charming group of writers anywhere else. These ladies kept the crowd entertained and engaged as they talked about YA, writing, their inspirations, being writers, and their books. It was a great event for fans and aspiring writers alike.

It’s always interesting to hear what inspires great writers. Unsurprisingly, they all have great taste in TV — there’s a serious overlap between the breathless, fast-paced, what’s-going-to-happen-next qualities of the best YA, and the greatest TV dramas. Marie Lu singled out Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad, while Andrea Cremer & Beth Revis both gave props to Doctor Who (Harley in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is based on David Tennant), and Joss Whedon (Revis credits him with teaching her how to kill characters, while Cremer says he taught her how to write dialogue). Revis is a huge fan of Firefly and Serenity, and via Nathan Fillion, she loves Castle too. Cremer is a devotee of Buffy. Jessica Spotswood namechecked a pretty awesome mashup of Downton Abbey, Revenge, and The Vampire Diaries.

With their genre credentials firmly established, the writers talked about why they like writing in the YA sci-fi and fantasy genres. Lu and Spotswood made the great point that this kind of fiction really allows you to explore issues without coming across as preachy, while Revis and Cremer dig the fact that you can transcend the usual boundaries of “boy books” vs. “girl books”. As Revis put it, “there should be good books, and everyone should be able to read them.” Lu praised Penguin for marketing LEGEND based on its sci-fi content, rather than directing it at boys or girls.

They all take different approaches to writing:

Revis — “I laugh wickedly when I kill off my characters.”

Cremer — “I cry a lot when I write my books.”

And they all picked different “theme songs” for their books:

Lu — Europe, “The Final Countdown”

Revis — Chameleon Circuit (a Doctor Who fan band), “Everything Is Ending”

Cremer — Florence + The Machine, the entire “Lungs” album

But they all feel blessed to have the opportunity to be published:

Spotswood — “It’s amazing.”

Revis — “Even after two books it’s still shiny and new.”

Cremer — “It’s extraordinary to be able to do this… I’m still trying to keep close to how extraordinary this is.”

Revis in particular has cause to still feel enthralled about the process of being a published author: prior to writing ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, she’d written 10 novels over 10 years, and had nearly 1000 rejections. Her will to make this happen was a testament to believing and following your dreams. Marie Lu had a similarly long path, having received her first query rejection at the age of 15 (for “a book that was basically LORD OF THE RINGS, but not good”). Cremer was at the other end of the speed spectrum: she had her third novel published a year after she started writing her first. It seems traditional publishing has two speeds: geologically-paced slow motion, and warp factor 8. But there’s only one type of attitude for writers: unflinching dedication to the dream.

Cremer had great advice for aspiring writers: “stop chasing new ideas — pick one and finish it.” Revis’s advice was possibly more lighthearted, but no less practical: “you need a spinning chair.”

And it was Revis who gave the best description of how YA should be seen: “YA isn’t a recommended reading level, it’s a style of writing: interesting characters, interesting setting and a fast-paced plot.”

What came across from all these inspiring and talented women was the belief that good books are good books, regardless of genre or gender. Writing is about creating great stories that reach people and move them, take them to different worlds (sometimes literally), and change how they see our world.

Many thanks to Marie Lu, Beth Revis, Jessica Spotswood and Andrea Cremer for taking part in the Breathless Reads tour, and kudos to Penguin Teens for organizing it, and for bringing writers and readers together.