"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
March 26, 2013
The Daughter of Smoke & Bone series: Lifting Paranormal Romance to a New Height
by Erin Cowles

I thought the Romeo and Juliet narrative had been done and redone so many times that I wouldn't be interested in yet another variation on the theme. I thought I couldn’t stay interested in books about wars between angels and demons. I thought including post-colonial themes in fantasy worlds always came across as preachy.

I thought wrong. Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and its sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight were engaging and thought-provoking reads that felt completely fresh.

While Karou’s life as a teenage art student in Prague seems fairly normal, her home life is another story. Karou has been raised by four demons. Although they treat her with love and respect, which she reciprocates, they have withheld any information about how this living arrangement came to be, or any aspect of their world that exists outside of their wish-granting shop. She often feels unconnected and somehow incomplete.

When an angel appears in town and the portal that connects her to her demon family is severed, Karou begins a journey to understand her true identity and her role within a paranormal war that has been raging for decades. This new world is ethically complicated and full of difficult choices, and in a world where people live for hatred, Karou has to fight to make a space where she can act with empathy, hope, and love.

Taylor’s strong writing chops are what make these books work. Her prose is lyrical, her pacing is perfect, and she can create a strong sense of place without losing the flow of the story. She manages to (mostly) avoid the moralistic feel that comes when authors talk about intolerance by giving both the angels and demons in these stories beauty and ugliness. The leadership of both groups has been corrupted by hatred and power, and individuals of both societies are capable of goodness and bravery.

There are some content issues for a Mormon audience. The overarching theme of Days of Blood and Starlight is that living for revenge and power destroys a society’s humanity. There is definitely violence and brutality in these books, including sexual abuse. However, the point of including these themes is to explore what causes these societal ills and what it takes to stop them.

Further, the teens in these books aren’t exactly following the guidelines found in For the Strength of Youth. While the violence in these books is supposed to be horrifying and wrong, premarital sex is treated as perfectly normal. There are also passages that occur while Karou is drawing nude humans as an art student, an activity which some teens might not be able to place in its proper framework.

The final book in this trilogy, currently unnamed, will be published in April 2014, so there’s a long wait to see how this trilogy resolves. I worry that by adding so many characters and settings in the second book, Taylor has spun this series out to a point she can’t control it, but she’s already proven me wrong several times with this series, and she’s likely to do it again.

Read this book if…

  • You love to savor beautiful passages of writing. You’ll find yourself repeatedly stopping to enjoy Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

  • You love fantasy written by female authors. Fantasy is a great place to explore the deep questions of life, and I love it when the questions that affect women are woven into these worlds.

  • You love a well-crafted story of star-crossed love. The forces keeping the romantic leads apart are powerful and painful, but I still find myself rooting for them to somehow make it work.

Target audience: Girls, ages 16+.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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