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REVIEW:  Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

REVIEW: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Dear Ms. Taylor,

Your previous novel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, was my favorite read of 2011. In it, readers met Karou, a blue-haired art student from Prague who also happened to be the human adopted daughter of monsters. The unfolding of Karou’s story, her history with the chimera, and her connection to the global angel sightings enthralled me. So I’ve been anxiously waiting for the sequel. It did not disappoint.

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living — one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel box without a jewel — a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini TaylorDays of Blood and Starlight picks up after the events of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Karou has vanished without a trace. The media is in a frenzy over the angel sightings and the mysterious blue-haired girl on the bridge. Some people, like Karou’s ex, have capitalized on the interest. Others, like Karou’s best friend, Zuzana, are worried. In fact, Zuzuna fears the worst has come to pass and that Karou is dead.

But Karou is indeed alive and well, and despite the narrative suspense over her absence, I would claim this not to be a spoiler since it wouldn’t be much of a trilogy had Karou died off-page. Talk about reader disatisfaction had that been the case! Without giving too much away about what Karou has been up to since her disappearance, let’s just say she’s joined the ancient conflict between angel and chimera. She may be human but she now has her memories of her previous life as the chimera, Madrigal, and as a result, is able to contribute to the battle.

Meanwhile, Akiva is wracked with guilt over the wrong he committed against Karou. From the angels’ perspective, what he did was right. In a single act, he destroyed the enemy’s source of power. After all, an army of souls who never truly die is a formidable opponent. But in doing so, he destroyed Karou’s life and realized too late that without that source of power, he would never have been reunited with his beloved Madrigal, now housed in the body of a human named Karou.

As a result, he tries to atone for his deeds. He remembers the dream he once shared with Madrigal, before grief clouded his thoughts with rage. He realizes once again that in this neverending cycle of war and bloodshed, there are no winners. There is only blood. So he begins to rebel in small, subtle ways.

After Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I wasn’t sure which direction we’d take. The revelation of what Akiva did was devastating and I admit I was a little worried we’d gloss over that fact as Karou and Akiva’s relationship progressed. I’m glad that didn’t happen. Karou does not forgive him for it and in fact, this drives her to make the choice she does. Her griefstricken anger is a palpable thing. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a fan of the Karou and Akiva relationship — I admit I find their dynamic boring — but I think this novel went a long way to assuaging my concerns in the way the problems and conflict between them are presented and explored.

I love that Zuzana played a significant supporting role here. As always, I’m a huge fan of female friendship especially when the friend has a life that doesn’t revolve around the heroine. Zuzana is worried about Karou and searches the globe for her, but her identity doesn’t revolve around Karou. She has a love interest of her own. She has interests, skills, and a personality that aren’t reflections of Karou’s. These sound like basic things but read enough YA novels and you realize that nope, not really.

As I mentioned before, I’m not really the biggest fan of Akiva. I get why his character is appealing but he doesn’t do anything for me. That said, I did appreciate that this novel delved more into his background, both on an individual character level and within the context of the angelic society. It makes me curious to see how it’ll be further explored in the next (and final?) book.

What struck me strongest about this novel were its themes of atonement and penance. Once upon a time, Akiva and Madrigal dreamed of a better world. Unfortunately, their love was forbidden and the punishment for it only escalated the war. And now their dream has gone so horribly awry that it’s uncertain they can come back from it. Days of Blood and Starlight does not shy away from that fact. There’s so much mistrust on all sides. Even Karou, who has rejoined the chimera side and begun to aid them, is the subject of much suspicion. No one has forgotten what her previous incarnation did, or rather who she fell in love with. But Karou endures their treatment in memory of her family, perhaps beyond the point at which she should have begun to push back. Even when the angels and chimera reluctantly team up, it’s not because of any ideas of peace. It’s because they have a common enemy. It’s a grim reality but I also think it is an honest one.

I thought Days of Blood and Starlight was an excellent follow-up to Daughter of Smoke and Bone. In some ways, I think it’s a stronger book. If Daughter was about Karou learning who and what she was, Days portrays the repercussions of choices and how devastating those effects can be. While the book doesn’t quite end on a cliffhanger, I am once again anxiously waiting the next novel. B+

My regards,

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REVIEW:  The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

REVIEW: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Dear Ms. Wasserman,

I’m a sucker for an evocative title, even more so than I am for a striking cover. And for me, you don’t get more evocative than The Book of Blood and Shadow. It caught my eye immediately on NetGalley. On top of that, the premise sounded different. That’s not something you can say often in the young adult genre these days. Having finished the book, I agree with my initial impression — it is a different book. At the same time though, I’m also forced to concede that it’s also a strange book.

Nora Kane comes from a broken family struggling to maintain a semblance of normalcy. Her older brother died in a car crash because he was driving while intoxicated and took the town’s golden girl with him. After his death, her parents kept up the facade of a functioning marriage even though they might as well have been strangers to each other. Forget even paying attention to it. And of course, Nora is treated like a walking freakshow at school.

When she gets a scholarship to Chapman Prep, Nora sees this as a chance to start over. She can pretend she never had a brother whose screw-up led to such devastating consequences. Unfortunately, her plan hits a speed bump when she meets Chris, an older boy who knew her family from before and is aware of brother’s existence and worse, exactly what he did. But to her surprise, he understands Nora’s reasons for pretending and keeps her secret. And so Chris, along with Adriane (a friend of Chris’s who would later become his girlfriend), accepts Nora into his circle and the three of them become the best of friends.

Things change when Nora, along with Chris and Chris’s roommate Max, begin to translate a series of ancient documents, among them the Book of Blood and Shadow. Nora, however, isn’t trusted with that task and instead is assigned a series of seemingly unimportant letters to translate. But it soon becomes apparent that while the letters appear innocuous, they’re anything but and may hold the key to the alchemical formulas contained within the Book. It is a key that people would kill for, as Nora soon learns to her everlasting regret.

While I don’t place much importance on subgenres myself, I do find them useful when discussing novels with other people. The Book of Blood and Shadow makes pinning down a genre difficult. It’s not a paranormal or fantasy, not in the way we consider it. Based on the premise I want to call it a thriller but the execution lacks the breakneck twists and turns I associate with the genre. I suppose the mystery label comes closest when looking at execution and style. But if anything, I’d call this the YA version of The Da Vinci Code.

I enjoyed the relationship aspects of the novel the most. Nora’s relationship with her family — the nonexistent one with her parents, the way the ghost of her dead brother haunts her steps — affects everything she does and how she looks at life. Nora’s ambiguous friendship with Chris was also enjoyable. He was the friend, the one who understood her best, the one she loved but didn’t dare go after because he was so out of her league. I sympathized with her after Chris and Adriane began going out. What happens when two of the people in a trio of best friends start dating? Where does that leave the third person? Do they become a third wheel or is there still room for them to fit? Even the part where Adriane wants Nora to hook up with Max was believable. She wanted her best friend to be happy too.

On the other hand, I’m conflicted about Nora’s relationship with Max. It was obvious from the start that she was settling and I could accept that from the POV of someone wanting to move on from being in love with her best friend. But at the same time, I had a hard time buying it since Nora starts off thinking he’s creepy and weird. I think we were supposed to see how Nora’s opinions of him changed over the course of translating the documents but that’s a tough transformation since the beginning of the book tells us that Max is believed to be a murderer.

While I enjoyed the parallels of Nora’s life with that of the woman whose letters she was translating, I found the mystery aspects to be the weakest parts of the book. Part of this, I think, is because of the way the book is written. It’s slow and almost dreamlike in some aspects, which doesn’t mesh well with a murder mystery style plot. Nora essentially goes globe-trotting to find Max and clear him of murder, but the execution lacked a certain level of excitement and suspense.

In fact, the further we moved away from the mundane pains of every day life into the world of secret societies and alchemical machines able to grant a direct phone line to God, the more the book faltered. The letter translations were meant to increase dread but as the book continued, the more I found them tedious. When the bulk of the action began to happen in Prague, I should have been excited but instead I found each event even more unbelievable than the last. It was almost as if we moved from one coincidence to the next and then again to another.

Then we got to the climactic revelation about Nora and Adriane. I was truly unthrilled about this. While I understood Adriane’s point — the relationship between Nora and Chris was truly something special — I didn’t care for this twist. Nora’s only female friend in the entire book, and this is what we end with: girls jealous of other girls because of boys. So cliche, and it stands out even more because there really weren’t many women in Nora’s life. Where are the books where girls can be friends with other girls and don’t fight over boys!

While I enjoyed the prose and most of the relationship aspects and portrayals, I thought The Book of Blood and Shadow had some serious flaws. I think its elements were trying to come together to tell us about life, death, and faith but the unevenness of the novels’ second half failed to deliver the thematic resonance. All things considered, this one is a C+ for me.

My regards,