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Author Posts | What YA Reading?

September 26th, 2014

Dreams of Gods and Monsters

by Laini Taylor

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By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.

Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael’s brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz … something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

 

Seldom is a series so beautiful, so moving, so exhaustively excellent, that it leaves me absolutely breathless. Seldom is a series such an incredible whirlwind of ups and downs, questions and answers, facts and uncertainties, that it leaves me at once fully satiated and famished for more. Seldom have I turned pages this quickly or stayed up this late into the wee hours of the morning because of a single book.

Seldom have I encountered an author such as Laini Taylor.

Doctor Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

If grins could crack, mine would.

In Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Karou reestablishes herself as the kick-ass heroine with whom we all fell in love in the trilogy’s first book. She regains her confidence, rebuilds her reputation, and comes back with a vengeance. I don’t feel the particular need to discourse on the quality of the character development these transformations entail, but let it be said: these transformations entail character development of high, high quality.

The world building is, as always, top drawer. Not only is Eretz illustrated handsomely, but when seen from Taylor’s eyes, Earth too becomes a foreign planet, chapters skipping from Morocco to Washington D.C. to Rome. And the fantasy’s history is, of course, rich with legends and truths, all beautifully told and beautifully haunting.

Taylor’s writing is something remarkable in and of itself. Every sentence is a masterpiece, each word carefully chosen to carve a path straight to her readers’ hearts. Frankly I found myself underlining paragraphs in my hardcover– something I rarely allow myself to do.

It is a sad thing to love in the midst of war, and yet Taylor manages to transform this fragile hope into something shining and strong. The whole of Dreams of Gods and Monsters is in truth quite exhilarating; I became giddy and high off of the characters’ innate and omnipotent hope. They all refuse to be broken, and it’s wonderful.

I can still scarcely believe that Laini allowed her readers to be this happy. When reading series finales, expecting disappointment has become second nature for every reader; if one of your favourite characters hasn’t died, decamped, or parted ways with their soulmate  yet, it’s usually because you haven’t turned the last page. But Dreams of Gods and Monsters demurs; it will not conclude in misery. I wouldn’t say it’s a happy ending– because that wasn’t an ending, not really– but it was pretty damn close. And I am over the moon for it.

Never have I been so amazed with Laini Taylor. Everything about Dreams of Gods and Monsters, from the plot’s most crucial turns to the wording’s most minute detail, was executed to the nines. I’ve said it before in regards to her work, and I’ll say it again: 5 stars. Aces, Laini. Aces.

 

I’ll keep you posted,

 

PS: See my review of the trilogy’s second book here.

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December 5th, 2012

Days of Blood & Starlight

by Laini Taylor

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Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?


How many times have I stated that Daughter of Smoke & Bone is one of my favourite books? Too many to count on one hand, anyway. Too many to count on both hands. For the past year, I have solidly recommended that novel to anyone who has asked my opinion on the subject. For the past year, I’ve held Laini Taylor up on a pedestal; surely, surely someone who has the ability to write the bittersweet masterpiece that is Daughter of Smoke & Bone possesses some sort of otherworldly powers. Surely I haven’t been wrong about that for all of this time.

Despite my doubt in my super hero of an idol, I will still recommend Daughter of Smoke & Bone, this trilogy’s first book, to anyone who will listen. My feelings for that novel will always remain sincere. But no matter how hard I try, I just can’t figure out what was going through Miss Taylor’s head when she wrote Days of Blood & Starlight. Perhaps she had a brief lapse in judgement. Or, you know, wanted to shell-shock her number one fan.

I’m not saying that Days of Blood & Starlight didn’t have its high points. It did. It had many of them. Every chapter ended in a cliffhanger; as a result, the ever-changing point of views were absolute torture. I had to keep reading in order to discover what happened to every member of the incredibly large cast of characters. Moreover, Taylor’s writing remained hauntingly beautiful. Every sentence was like a drop of dew on a spider web: hopeful and desolate, fragile and everlasting, a lens through which the world shone. I’ll also admit that she handles sequels rather well; usually trilogies’ middle children are mere filler books, but here the action just kept coming, secret after secret and coup after coup.

And all of that for naught. Because all through Days of Blood & Starlight, only one thought rang clearly through my mind: what happened to Karou? The tamed, shamed and sniveling protagonist whom we are forced to endure in this novel bears no resemblance to Daughter of Smoke & Bone‘s kick-ass heroine. What happened to the girl who stood up for herself, no matter the consequences? What happened to the girl who would never look down, shamefaced, or allow herself to be abased by her bruises? The girl who would never, ever let herself play the part of a pawn in a miscreant’s plot to rule the world? This Karou is not that girl. And, oh, do I want her back.

Of all of the protagonists I’ve encountered, I never would have thought that  Karou would be the one to disappoint me. Some people are strengthened by tragedy, while others are broken by it. Our favourite blue-haired heroine has, unfortunately, fallen into the latter category. For some reason I can’t fathom, Taylor has transformed her into your sad, average YA protagonist. You know what I’m talking about: she can’t go a chapter without feeling sorry for herself, she lets herself be bossed around by just about everyone, and constantly cowers in her room because *gasp!* people might not like her.

I mean, look at this crap:

Whatever went on in the ashfall landscape and blood-crusted world of war where her creations went forth to do violence, it wasn’t her concern. She conjured the bodies; that was all.

What more could she possibly do?

Oh, please, Karou, don’t pull that. Just because you have an excuse to go all submissive on me doesn’t mean you should.

Because the truth is that Karou does have a perfectly good reason to stand aside while her kind’s future is crushed and butchered. Daughter of Smoke & Bone‘s ending sort of ensured that. But for the love of Brimstone, how could she even consider that as an option, let alone embrace it? Zuzana and Liraz were probably my favourite characters in Days of Blood & Starlight, and that’s saying something.

Towards the end of the novel, Karou does man up. I appreciate that. However, she’s more bark than bite, and I’m still waiting to see her doused flame catch fire once again.

4/5 stars. Maybe my expectations were too high. Nonetheless, Laini Taylor, you still have a chance to redeem yourself. The day this trilogy’s final book is released will be a happy day!

 

I’ll keep you posted,

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November 30th, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

by Laini Taylor

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Buy Daughter of Smoke and Bone on Amazon

AROUND THE WORLD, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth has grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

MEET KAROU. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands;” she speaks many languages — not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers — beautiful, haunted Akiva — fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

 

This. Book. Is. Friggin’. Amazing. Where can I even begin to start this review? I guess that I’ll try to make this as simple as possible: I LOVE IT!!! IT IS SPECTACULAR!!! 5 STARS! Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of the best YA books that I have ever read.

This is one of those books that you can’t even begin to describe. Anything I say could not possibly measure up to the wonder of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Basically, all you need to know is that you should read it. Right now. Stop reading this review, drive to the nearest bookstore, and buy this book. It is beyond worth it.

Karou doesn’t know who she is. Her hair is naturally blue, her body is riddled with scars and tattoos, some of which she thinks she was born with, and she grew up living with four monsters. Brimstone, who is supposedly the devil himself, was the closest thing to a father Karou has ever had, and Issa has a human head and torso and is snake from the waist down. Every once in a while the back door to Brimstone’s shop will be knocked on, and Karou will be forced into a closed off room. The front door of Brimstone’s shop, however, can only be opened from within. It leads to any and every city on Earth. It is through this door that humans enter the shop to trade teeth–animal or human– for wishes. Brimstone is also called the Wishmonger, because that’s what he deals in: wishes. However, the core of Daughter of Smoke and Bone is quite clear: hope is the wish.

The world building is utterly captivating. Brimstone and his crew and shop are the essence of that childhood dream about the world of monsters that you never completely imagined. But behind this dream lies a mysterious secret: the teeth. What in all the devils does Brimstone need teeth for? The queerness of the teeth necklaces is the best part of the world building; it’s strange, and sort of gross, really, but you embrace it wholeheartedly because it fits into Brimstone’s shop. It fits with Issa’s pet serpents, the fire roaring as the foursome of monsters chit-chat quietly, and the magical doorway that could lead you anywhere.

And then there’s Prague, one of the worlds on the outside of Brimstone’s doorway. This is where Karou lives. It’s beautiful and whimsical and dark, like a black castle with dozens of turrets. I love it. I blame you, Laini Taylor, for my bypassing my usual bought lunch in order to save for my ever-extending trip to Europe.

Do you remember those fairytales that you used to read as a child? Not the stupid rainbows and kittens of fairytales (*cough*Cinderella*cough*), but the good kind. The Grimm kind. The kind with dozens of unexpected twists, imperfect perfections, morbid innuendo and, perhaps, a not-so-happy ending. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of these fairytales. It is written poetically and beautifully:

It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.

It was all but naked, a bloated torso with reedy arms wrapped tight around the human’s neck. Useless legs dangled behind, and its head was swollen taut and purple, as if it were engorged with blood and ready to pop in a great, wet burst.

Here and there, feathers fell, and they were like tufts of white fire, disintegrating to ash as soon as they touched the ground. In Delhi, a Sister of Mercy reached out and caught one on her palm like a raindrop, but unlike a raindrop it burned, and left the perfect outline of a feather seared into her flesh.
“Angel,” she whispered, relishing in the pain.
She was not exactly wrong.

Moving onto the characters: Karou is one of those strong, kick-crack heroines. She does what she thinks is right, no matter the circumstances, and defends herself with ease. Akiva is more complicated. He sort of switches from the bad guys’ team to the good guys’ team and back again, but in the end, I believe that he chooses right.
That’s one of the best parts of this book: you can’t always tell the good guys from the bad guys. The angels have fought against the devils for centuries, but as a reader, you are exposed to both sides of the story. That’s part of what makes this story so real: amid the clash of monsters versus angels, because both sides of the story are still somewhat innocent, there is hope. But there is not peace.

At one point, Daughter of Smoke and Bone doesn’t focus on Karou anymore, but somebody else. It becomes a story within a story, a novella with a novel, and it adds depth to the plot. I loved it.

I love it.

If I could sum up my feelings toward this book in one word: love. 5 stars. I’m a picky reader, but… 5 stars!!!

 

I’ll keep you posted,

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