By Laini Taylor
Published by Hodder
ISBN 978 1 4447 2265 9
Any novel that opens with the words "Once upon a time" invites certain expectations. Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a dangerous romantic fantasy that lives up to the cliched opening.
But this story is far from being a simple fairy tale for children. Taylor's tale is a dark, sophisticated epic that throws religion, romance, mythology, devilry and war into the mix. As well as delivering thrills, this novel makes demands on its reader's intelligence with its gripping and awe-inspiring plot.
Seventeen-year-old Karou is an art student in the modern-day city of Prague, in eastern Europe. She has bright blue hair, tattoos on the palms of her hands, and is the proud owner of a sketchbook filled with grotesque creatures and characters. Karou's friends ask endless questions about her background, her family and the weird art in her sketchbook. But they never get any answers. Karou is a mystery, and even though she is popular and friendly, certain aspects of her life are out of bounds to even her closest friends.
Filled with old buildings, bohemian cafes, cobbled streets and alleyways, Prague is the perfect setting for a fantasy-romance, and Taylor uses the city almost as a character in its own right.
Karou frequently takes time off from art school to carry out errands for her hideous guardian, the devilish Brimstone. She passes through portals that take her to far-off destinations to collect human and animal teeth for Brimstone's collection. But even this secret part to Karou's life is not what it seems.
When mysterious burnt handprints begin appearing on the doors of the portals that Karou uses, the young student finds herself caught up in a supernatural struggle between good and evil, and Taylor's plot thickens with ethical questions, ancient myths and deadly romance.
This ambitious story is packed with suspense and action. Taylor successfully turns the jaded fantasy-romance genre on its head. Her storytelling, unfolding of character and plot, and build-up of atmosphere are smoothly executed on each of the 400 pages of the novel. Taylor's grip on the fantasy world she is writing about never lets up for a moment.
Older teenagers and young adults who enjoy intelligent fantasy will find this novel hard to put down. Taylor is a skilled and imaginative writer, and this highly original classic-in-the-making pumps a welcome breath of fresh air into a genre that was fast becoming tired. Highly recommended.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com