Hope within a Thurible || Days of Blood and Starlight Review

Initial Thoughts: 

Dead. I have died and Karou needs to exist to glean my soul into a thurible so she can resurrect me as a monster. This book hurts so much it’s a miracle that I’VE not learned the power of invisibility (because in the book, magic is caused by a sort of pain). And OH MY GOD, WHAT HAVE THEY ALL DONE.

Dead, I tell you. Dead.


DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT

by Laini Taylor
Little, Brown Books, November 2012
YA fantasy, paranormal
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

Let me talk to you first about how Daughter of Smoke and Bone broke me just a bit.

A while back, I’d read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and was practically heartbroken by the end, because not only was the setup to the next book so positively cliffhangery, there was just so much sadness in the wake of so much happiness and DAMMIT LAINI TAYLOR WHY WOULD YOU WRENCH MY HEARTSTRINGS SO?!

That was three years ago. I’ve since been so utterly inspired by Laini Taylor that not only have I baked my way through Prague, I went and lived the dream. I went to Prague, and solely because I wanted to live in Karou’s shoes, even for a little while. Smoke and Bone was such an integral part of my desire to travel to fictional and non-fictional worlds, and once more, Days of Blood and Starlight delivered on that level.

The kasbah was a castle built of earth, one of the hundreds that studded these southern reaches of Morocco, where they had baked in the sun for centuries. Once, they had been home to warrior clans and all their retinue. They were primeval fortresses, proud and red and tall, with crenellations like the hooked teeth of vipers, and arcane Berber patterns etched on the high, smooth walls.

I was transported to Morocco, to its heat and desert sands, to Marrakesh and Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou. For a brief moment, I lived in an Eretzian sandcastle filled with monsters, and I followed angels to the heart of its seraphim empire in Astrae.

And by all the godstars, I’ll be damned if I don’t go to Morocco as one of my vacation destinations.

Warning: Now here’s the part where you might want to turn away if you don’t like spoilers. Because as this is the second installment of a trilogy, expect me to be talking about things happening in the first book.

Blood and Starlight continues the story of Daughter of Smoke and Bone and opens back in Prague, where most of the supernatural events occurred, making the public aware that angels exist. Talk of the blue-haired Karou continues, and in the eve of it, Zuzana wonders what’s happened to her best friend. While the media and the public eventually die down in search of the flying blue-haired girl (and onto supernatural teeth-thieves), it is not so in Eretz.

Eretz is rife with war, and it gets worse now that Thiago is back and exacting vengeance upon the chimaera’s slavers: the seraphim. On the other side stands Akiva, the Beast’s Bane, and his seraphim brothers and sisters, fighting a war that never seems to end.

If the first book was merciless in its depiction of the casualties of endless warfare, this second book takes it to a brutally higher level. Days of Blood and Starlight is DARK. And BLEAK. And TERRIBLY VIOLENT.

“Dead souls dream only of death. Small dreams for small men. It is life that expands to fill worlds. Life is your master, or death is. Look at you. You are a lord of ashes, a lord of char. You are filthy with your victory…You are lord of a country of ghosts, and that is all that you will ever be.”

I don’t think there’s a more perfect quote to describe Eretz in this story as the quote above. The world is bleak, and there’s a lot of blood spilled on both sides, painting a world where neither seraphim nor chimaera are innocent of their actions. And to top it off, Karou and Akiva are on the opposite sides of the spectrum, their parting of ways in Smoke and Bone one filled with hatred and sorrow. Honestly, I found myself putting this book down very often, because of the star-crossed lovers trope, because it’s clear that Laini was going to use everything in her power to keep these two separate in a bleak story of war where characters are hanging onto the tiniest sliver of hope.

You’re not going to find any Akiva-Karou quotes in this review, because I die inside over and over again reading those passages. DAMMIT JUST GET BACK TOGETHER ALREADY, YOU GUYS.

So let me keep going. There are characters in Blood and Starlight that get a bit more limelight. Besides Karou and Akiva, there are several little POVs that reflect the thoughts of various characters in the book. Liraz, Ziri, as well as Zuzana and Mik are given POV scenes, which adds to the story. Occasionally I found this a bit distracting, because here I am, reading and captivated by a scene, and suddenly, instead of Karou or Akiva’s POV in the next chapter, I got a fistful of other characters. I got used to it by the end, and by that point, I was actually relieved to find some of the breakage in Karou and Akiva POVs. There’s only so much heartbreak I could take after all.

“Is life worth keeping on with, whatever happens?”

“Yes,” he said, wary, thinking of the thurible, and Karou. “As long as you’re alive, there’s always a chance things will get better.”

“Or worse,” said Liraz.

“Yes,” he conceded. “Usually worse.”

Hazael cut in. “My sister, Sunshine, and my brother, Light. You two should rally the ranks. You’ll have us all killing ourselves by morning.”

And can I just talk about how much I love Akiva’s Misbegotten siblings? It was hard to gauge Liraz and Hazael in Smoke and Bone, because their first appearance was out of anger and hatred for chimaera. Liraz and Hazael came down to kill Karou–as had Akiva, really–only to be thwarted by their Misbegotten brother. It was a blow to Liraz and Hazael, because Akiva was the closest half-brother they had, hence there’s a lot of tension in the beginning of Blood and Starlight. Past that, though, the twin seraphim are closer in thought to Akiva than Akiva expected, and honestly, I found this the best relationship of siblings ever.

“Neek-neek, afraid? I don’t believe it.” There was a ferocity in the tiny Zuzana that had started Virko calling her neek-neek, after a growlsome breed of shrew-scorpion known for facing down predators ten times its size.

And, of course, there’s no talking about the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy without Zuzana. Zuzana is seriously THE BEST ever. She’s a human with a healthy curiosity and a loyalty to Karou that defies worlds. At this point, she’s already hooked up with Mik, a violinist, and the two of them–mostly Zuzana–spend a great deal of their time in Prague in search of Karou’s whereabouts. The beginning chapters have some hilarious emails from Zuzana asking if Karou is dead, and I swear, without her and Mik bringing a bit of humor and wonder and excitement into this book, there wouldn’t be much of a silver lining anywhere else. (Well, maybe Hazael. Hazael was a peach, too.)

There was a note…in archaic Seraphic, in a feminine hand, and stamped with a wax seal depicting a scarab beetle: Thank you, but we must respectfully decline your overture, being more enjoyably occupied at present.

A lot of Blood and Starlight–which seems to be the case for most second books of trilogies–was leading up to an even greater conflict that would not only involve chimaera versus seraphim, but also humans and monsters, and angels against angels. I was a bit of a mess by the end of the book, because a TON of shit happens, and Karou and Akiva are forced together in light of a common enemy. Which means they’re at close proximity, BUT DAMMIT LAINI WHY ARE THEY STILL NOT SNOGGING EACH OTHER?!

Uh, okay. I got a bit heated there. Don’t mind me.

By the end of Blood and Starlight, I’m wondering many things. I want to know about Stelia, about Akiva’s explosively potent magic, and most of all, I definitely want to know how two different armies will try to coexist.

Also…I’m going to have to scrounge up some Moroccan-inspired foods at some point.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! Ugh, if my ship sails and sinks by the end of the third book, I might very well be inconsolable.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

Praha: Living in Daughter of Smoke and Bone

daughterofsmokeI will say right now that my decision to spend a few days in Prague last July was largely brought on by the beautiful writings of one author. I’m talking about Laini Taylor, and by her writing, I’m talking about Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I’d previously reviewed the book last year, and I was so smitten by the setting (which encompassed a wide array of places, actually) that I found myself imagining that I was sitting near where Karou had been sitting in her Poison Kitchen, or walking across Charles Bridge just trying to get to class. It’s one thing to imagine and live vicariously through your favorite fictional characters, quite another to actually have the opportunity to live it, even for a short time.

And oh boy, when Opportunity came knocking, I opened the door so wide he had no choice but to step into my threshold to enjoy a pot of tea and freshly-baked kolaches, while I went ahead and packed my bags.

Admittedly, I was with a tour group, so it was much harder to get away and linger in Prague by my lonesome. I did have a full day to myself, which I took advantage of by traipsing the possible places Karou could have gone.

They paid good money for Kaz’s “ghost tours,” which consisted of being herded through the tangled lanes of Prague in the dark, pausing at sites of supposed murders so “ghosts” could leap out of doorways and make them shriek. – Pg. 3

There weren’t any ghosts jumping out of doorways and alleys, but traipsing the old Jewish Quarter at night certainly had no end in creepiness. The guide for my “ghost tour” was dressed up like Death, though, and he had a great deal of stories about the area. A particular favorite was one about a sleeping golem hidden upon the rooftops of the Jewish Quarter. The legend goes on to say that the golem will rise up again in Prague’s hour of need to protect the city. I love this concept, really I do.

The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century–or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies…and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. – Pg. 24

praha4

There’s imagery, and then there’s imagery. The Prague that Taylor described was during the winter-time, so I imagine it’s much less crowded, since people are inside trying to keep warm or, you know, there are definitely less tourists at this time period to begin with. Still, snow or no snow, the city is beautiful.

Down by the Devil’s Stream, Poison Kitchen was a place rarely stumbled upon by chance; you had to know it was there, and duck under an unmarked stone arch into a walled graveyard, beyond which glowed the lamp-lit windowpanes of the cafe…

“…but the monks’ quarters remain, and have been converted to the strangest cafe you’ll find anywhere, crowded with classical statues all sporting the owner’s collection of WWI gas masks.” – Pg. 25

Hate to burst your bubble, but Poison Kitchen doesn’t exist. Yeah, this was a mild disappointment when I looked it up. However, I kind of did run into a baroque cafe facing the Charles Bridge. You wouldn’t know there was a cafe inside since the signs mostly point to the museum right next to it. To get here, I had to climb down a set of stairs, go past the fascinating open museum, and then head sharply right into a lovely cafe. The place could probably fit twenty or so people at the most. It was cozy and small and–fortunately for me–rather empty when I sat down to order my coffee and cake.

Okay, so there is no gas mask collection in the baroque cafe, but I’d gone to a nuclear bunker tour the day before and found the picture fitting to add in here, lol.

Fairy-tale city. From the air, red rooftops hug a kink in a dark river, and by night the forested hills appear as spans of black nothing against the dazzle of the lit castle, the spiking Gothic towers, the domes great and small. – Pg. 160

praha8

Regrettably I do not have any night pictures of Prague’s skyline. I also don’t have an aerial shot of Prague, so this was the closest I could get to as far as Akiva’s view of Prague is concerned. Squint hard enough and maybe you’ll see the fiery-eyed angel perched on top of one of the towers. Sigh, if only, right?

Soon enough she came to the Charles Bridge.

Icon of Prague, the medieval bridge crossed the Vltava between Old Town and the Little Quarter. Gothic bridge towers rose on both sides, and the whole span — pedestrian-only — was lined by monumental statues of saints…Vendors and performers were arriving with handcarts to stake out the most coveted real estate in the city, and in the very middle, before the photo-perfect backdrop of Prague Castle on the hill, was the giant puppeteer. – Pg. 174

Besides Poison Kitchen, I think the Charles Bridge was one of the most memorable scenes in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. A lot happens here in Karou’s story, including Zuzana’s puppet show and the fantastic aerial showdown between Karou and Akiva (OMG can I say how much I ADORED that scene, btw?!). There were no giant puppeteers or marionettes being displayed at the center of the bridge when I was there, but there was a puppeteer dancing his marionette, to the delight of a small crowd and their children. (No, I didn’t take a picture of this, ’cause I was too busy recording it on video, lol!).

Needless to say that I enjoyed myself stepping into a character’s shoes. I didn’t meet an angel, I didn’t find the portal to Brimstone’s shop, and I certainly don’t have a head of bright blue hair, but I walked Karou’s shoes as best I could, and that in itself was magical.

Now, if I was to pick another place from Karou’s travelogue, I’d head to Morocco next. The scene happening in Marrakesh was my second favorite, after all!

25 Reads: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I want to go to Prague. I want to meet a fiery-eyed angel there and be raised by strangely loving but shady teeth-collecting demons. I want to be friends with a marionette maker’s daughter and roam the fairy-tale streets whilst vampires and ghouls try to pull a scare on back alleys and hidden corners. I want wishes, even small ones that could change my hair a bright blue (except mine would probably be a mixture of gold and purple, just ’cause). I want the feel of astral butterflies fluttering excitedly in my stomach (though that can’t be too comfortable on a regular basis). I want wings so I can fly. Particularly wings that emit a self-contained fire.

God, if Daughter of Smoke and Bone could be any more poetic, I probably would have cried over how beautifully written it was.


DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE

by Laini Taylor
Little, Brown Books, September 2011
YA paranormal fantasy

smokeandboneGoodreads: Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actuallygrows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

A Bucketful of Squees

Laini Taylor writes such pretty things.  This isn’t the first time I’ve been introduced to her writing, so I had expected writing that took me back to what I had seen in Lips Touch: Three Times and somewhat in Blackbringer. What I got was a love child between urban fantasy and faerie, with the short story “Spicy Little Curses” as the doting world-traveling aunt. For me, that made for some enjoyable writing, and even holding a physical copy of the book itself was much more preferable, since the layout usually tends to be just as aesthetically pleasing as the text (Lips Touch still remains my favorite of the hardcovers I own).

smokeandbone1The star-crossed lovers trope gets a new set of wings. Admittedly, I could do without having to read another Romeo and Juliet complex. Warring families, lovers belonging on opposite sides, blah blah blah. Karou and Akiva are no different, true. Well, save for the fact that Akiva belongs to a race of elitist warrior angels and Karou’s an art student whose hair grows blue at the roots and who works for the chimaera abominations that are supposedly no better than slaves. But, you know, same old story, right? Maybe. Kinda not really.

I guess there’s the magic system and the mythologies to blame for that. There’s also the fact that “good” and “evil” aren’t exactly classified as such, and even the monsters can be construed as more beautiful than the regal seraphim in Astrae. I also love that each side has a story about origins, and that this is shown in the book.

And those characters, yo. Zuzana was easily my favorite character, and often she made me laugh out loud on the train as I read (which is slightly embarrassing, but oh well). I loved Karou’s personality, and even as she fell into insta-love (can it be classified as insta-love when technically it’s been seventeen or so years?), she didn’t completely forget who she was (sorry, Akiva!). I loved Brimstone and the chimaera and really hope the ending was ambiguous enough to leave a bit of Hope at the door–I mean, that’s the whole point, right? Hope is more powerful than wishes after all.

That heartbreaking ending. I would have considered the Madrigal addition as the slowest point of the book, but I actually loved that the story was shown that way, and not through explanatory dialogue. That said, I did realize, with increasing anxiety, that the book was ending and a conclusion was not happening any time soon. Yeah, I totally felt like I was broken up with twice in that second to last chapter. But I won’t elaborate…

So yes, easily a 5 out of 5 Goodreads stars.


A Little Taste of Prague

The beginning chapters of the book opened up to a lot of description about the places Karou frequented in the mortal realm. Which is a good thing, because I loved envisioning Taylor’s Prague, and loved reading about the quaint little Poison Kitchen cafe and the food Karou and Zuzana tended to get there. At some point, there was a scene in the book where Karou offers to get breakfast, and Zuzana says something similar to: “If it doesn’t have chocolate, it’s not breakfast.” (I can’t remember exactly, so the wording might be off). Karou walks back to the bakery and buys kolaches.

So immediately, I had a craving to make myself some of these baked morsels.

kolaches

Unsurprisingly, there was a kolache recipe out there waiting for me to make. And so I took some time to bake some!

Granted, “some time” kind of encompassed a day and a half, considering I initially thought I’d killed my yeast (which was remedied by me putting the dough inside my oven over a tray of boiling water). There was a lot of waiting for the dough to rise–at least three times. But other than that, since I skipped out on making the fillings from scratch, once the bread was actually ready, it took a mere 20 or so minutes to flatten it, fill it, and bake it.

kolaches1

Note: Since Thanksgiving is around the corner, I found a lot of fruit pie fillings at the supermarket for sale, so I went and got a raspberry filling as well as an apricot one. I didn’t use the apricot filling, though, since I wanted to put chocolate in at least half of the kolaches. As Zuzana said, no chocolate, not breakfast!

Verdict: Personally, I loved the baked Nutella texture more than when I put it on top after the bread baked. My sister is the opposite, and liked the Nutella nice and creamy. My mother decided the raspberry filling was nice, but not as nice as speculoos spread, and my father liked just the bread itself without any of the sweet toppings. Honestly. I think as long as the bread is baked, you can put whatever toppings you want on top and it’ll come out brilliantly.