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March 26, 2013
Read this YA Book If…
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…

Target audience: Girls, ages 16+.

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