by Franny Billingsley
|Daughter of Smoke and Bone
by Laini Taylor
There is a romantic fantasy common to both adult and YA fiction in which a man who is impossibly beautiful, wildly powerful, possibly evil, and deeply damaged is tamed by the love of a good woman. It is an unequal partnership on the surface. He has the looks and the power. Also, he really might kill her. And yet, he melts when she is near and therefore she is the one with the power, really. At least, so I am told, though honestly I don’t buy it.
It’s not a fantasy that compels me, though apparently I am pretty much alone. I like my men reasonably but not terrifyingly handsome, funny, and nurturing rather than powerful and remote. I am not interested in danger as an aphrodisiac. It quite turns me off.
But enough about my peculiarities for now.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is a terrific read that took me to several worlds I didn’t want to leave. It is full of innovatively creepy monsters. The heroine, blue-haired and covered in tattoos, is satisfyingly violent and smart-mouthed.
Karou is an art student living in Prague, eating goulash and cavorting with street artists, but her family—which is mysterious even to her—consists of a demon who trades in the teeth of the dead and the group of chimarea who work for him. Karou doesn’t understand why she, a human girl, was raised by these people, nor does she know why the demon sends her on teeth-collecting errands around the globe. Everyone in the demon’s world wants to keep Karou happy and ignorant in the human world, but of course, it’s a form of torture for her not to know who she really is.
Karou remains ignorant until an impossibly beautiful, wildly powerful, possibly evil, and deeply damaged angel shows up. “His gaze was like a lit fuse, scorching the air between them. He was the most beautiful thing Karou had ever seen. Her first thought, incongruous but overpowering, was to memorize him so she could draw him later. Her second thought was that there wasn’t going to be a later, because he was going to kill her” (pp. 95–96).
They fall in love, and pretty mind-bendingly awesome secrets are revealed about Karou’s past, the angel’s history, the demon, and what is going on with all those teeth the demon is collecting.
It is an awesome book, and I hugely recommend it to everyone, even though it ends with some of the mysteries unsolved because a sequel is forthcoming. Still, I am tipping the battle in favor of Chime by Franny Billingsley, largely because of my probably idiosyncratic inability to fall in love with that foxy, murderous angel.
Chime and Daughter are both romantic stories about young women who are ignorant of their own pasts and suffering because of it. But while Taylor plays this problem out in huge, magical globe-trotting action sequences, Billingsley puts her semi-amnesiac heroine Briony in a suffocatingly small town on the edge of a spirit-filled swamp in the early 20th-century.
They hang witches, there. And Briony is a witch, much as she wishes she wasn’t. She thinks she knows how to cure the town of the plague that is killing off its children—but if she tells anyone, they’ll string her up for witchcraft.
Briony has layers of conflicting memories and an extremely evasive narrative voice. Half the time, one doesn’t quite know what is happening, and neither does she. Somewhat infuriatingly, she is always changing the subject when people try to talk about the past or explain things to her. She often decides not to tell people things she should really tell them immediately. Still, it does all come together, and by the end, we have forgiven her all her oddball choices and behaviors.
Her voice is startlingly gorgeous. Speaking of her eternally childish, sweet but demented twin sister, Rose: “It’s my fault that Rose is the way she is. It’s my fault that Rose screams. She screamed like a river, the longest river you could imagine, and from time to time, words bobbed to the surface like sticks” (p. 36).
The way the magic works is emotional throughout. It is always expressing deep feelings of familial love, fury, jealousy, and guilt. The book is political and angry—but it is also a romance, and a gothic one, too—but in a mold I have rarely seen.
It is Briony who is the beauty, the power, the potential evil, and the damaged person. Eldric, her love interest, is all sun and silliness. He is nurturing and curious. He throws good parties and works hard on the decorations. He is absolutely darling, golden, and leonine, and occasionally foolish. And so for me, the incredibly romantic ending of Chime had great strength, because it wasn’t a fantasy of a bad man tamed—it was the fantasy of loving a deeply good man, and how healing that can be.
– Judge E. Lockhart
And the Winner of this match is……
Noooooo! Well, this isn’t entirely unexpected, but I had hoped my pet book would prevail. I’m not unfamiliar with this criticism of the romance, but it didn’t faze me because (a) I read this more for the fantasy and mystery than for the romance and (b) since I don’t read widely in the romance genre I’m not as familiar with this trope, certainly not to the point of oversaturation. Now I remember Billingsley said in one of those five question Horn Book interviews that she much preferred BEAUTY (saving a soul) to THE BLUE SWORD (saving the kingdom), and CHIME reflects that, obviously. Me, I’m a BLUE SWORD guy all the way. But I’d like to think you could have both, and I certainly feel that I get both in DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE. Ah, well. We’ll get ‘em next year with DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT. In the meantime, I’m definitely rooting for CHIME against BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. Go Team Fantasy!
– Commentator Jonathan Hunt
With the two novels in this match so similar in genre, I was positive that this would be a very interesting and difficult match to both judge and comment on. Although romance novels are not my personal favorites, I was pleasantly surprised with the turnouts. Daughter of Smoke and Bone brings readers into its wonderfully eerie, dystopic, fantasy world with its whimsically spunky protagonist, Karou. Not your average young woman, Karou brings life to the story with her satisfyingly witty ways in the search to find her identity, and to save the world of the chimaera. Everything is not what it seems in this twisted, dark, forbidden romance, and even after finishing the book it kept me awake for hours just thinking about it. Chime, was a very similar novel and could easily accompany its competitor in a series. As much as I liked Chime with its witches and its conflicting narrations, I did enjoy Daughter of Smoke and Bone more. So, with all due respect to E. Lockhart, if it were my choice, the match would have ended quite differently, but as a fan of both books, I am satisfied with a hint of disappointment.
– Kid Commentator GI