A few months ago, with January 2012 approaching, I resolved to read more young adult fiction. This was not something I did when I actually was a young adult. I was too busy proving I was grown-up and intense, devouring Stephen King, Clive Barker and any other dark tomes I thought could impress my friends. My friends were never impressed (I wasn't surrounded by a lot of readers in high school.), but I did get some good reading done. The end result, though, was that I left young adulthood having read virtually none of the fiction written for my age group.
Now, firmly entrenched in adulthood (though doing my best to refuse to act like it), I'm surrounded by adults who read young adult. My girlfriend Kimberly reads and writes about it extensively , and she frequently leans over whilst in the middle of a new title to let me know that she thinks I might actually enjoy it. We're both ravenous consumers of all things genre fiction, so I tend to take those recommendations seriously.
At last all of these things converged: desires to read outside my comfort zone, to know more about a field of fiction the serious readers around me love and to simply find more good stories to devour. It just so happened that when these things did converge, the book that everyone was talking about was Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
Kimberly was raving about it, it's a fantasy novel, it didn't involve sexy vampires of any stripe and, perhaps most importantly for me, it wasn't written in present tense. I have no objection to the decision of any writer to use present tense in their narrative, but I often find it tedious to read, and present tense YA novels are legion these days. But I have digressed long enough. On to the book...
Karou is a young artist living and studying in Prague, but she's more than just that unusual teenage girl these stories tend to begin with. Karou has spent her life in two worlds. In one she's a teenage girl with a talent for art and picking the wrong guys. In the other she's a kind of errand girl for Brimstone, a chimaera who collects (among other things) human teeth for a breed of wish magic not even Karou fully understands.
It's a strange life, but it's all Karou knows. She steps through magical portals to run errands for Brimstone throughout the world, he rewards her with her own small wishes. Things being to change when black handprints begin appearing on doors all over the world, and suddenly Karou is thrust into a war she never knew existed, a war between angels and chimaera that she happens to be a central part of.
That's all the plot description I'm attempting, mostly because the tale that Taylor weaves here is much too rich for book jacket copy. So many fantasy novels (YA and otherwise) fall into the trap of convenient plotting. You can see where it's going from the first page. For some readers that doesn't mean things are any less satisfying, but it does mean that you never feel like you're being told a real honest story.
With Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Taylor seems to be telling every other novelist working in her field that this is how it's done. This story doesn't dryly progress. It unfolds like a poisonous flower until you can't bear not knowing what happens next. This is thanks in part to Taylor's vivid and lyrical prose, but also to what seems to be a humble yet firm commitment to defy the predictability of paranormal fiction. This is not a story that you can easily sum up to your friends, or one that you can quickly recap in a review. This is a story that you experience, that you get lost in, page by page.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is proof that young adult fiction can resonate well beyond its intended audience. It's a staggering work of fantasy - imaginative, bold and surprising. Laini Taylor's gorgeously dark book will sweep you in and never let go.