[Friday Flash Review] Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

❧ Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
❧ Author: Laini Taylor
❧ Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
❧ Publication date: 27th September 2011
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦.5
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Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.
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 actually grows 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?
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daughter of smoke and bone❝In A Nutshell❞
✎ Angels and demons (chimera)–and ne’er the twain shall meet! (Except they do and they hate one another and they fight.) A big, very old war between angels and demons that is about to get far worse and drag old wounds and memories to the surface.
✎ A blue-haired girl who has hamsas on her hands and trades in wishes and works for a monster in a shop. She draws monsters in her sketchbooks and speaks more languages than she should. She has a sense that there’s a secret within her, only she’s not sure she ever wants to know.
✎ The supply of wishes that the monster peddles is running dangerously low–a valued and valuable currency–and its up to the blue-haired Karou to do something about the dwindling supply. But as she sets out on what appears to be a normal errand, she has no idea that she’d about to find out more than she ever expected about who she truly is. Or, perhaps, who she was.
✎ An angel who once loved a chimera and who still loves her even after she was executed by her own people for their love.
✎ Diverse 🚫 (unfortunately, nope)
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❝What I loved❞
✎ The chimera and their differences; so many different races/species of chimera, some more monstrous than others.
✎ Wishes as currency and with different “value” and potency: not all wishes are equal or cost the same amount. Some are tiny wishes that cost practically nothing, whilst others are as valuable as gold or silver and are far harder to spend.
✎ The setting, the world, the everything. Taylor’s writing is perfect and poetic and wonderful. The audiobooks were beautifully narrated, too, which was a bonus.
✎ Zuzana!!
✎ Prague, Poison Kitchen, and Zuzana!
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❝What I didn’t love❞
✎ No diversity. Boo.

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❝If you liked this…❞
…then you might also like: Strange The Dreamer, also by Laini Taylor, or The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Taylor’s latest duology, of which Strange The Dreamer is the first, is as magical as the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, telling the story of a librarian and the leftover children of the gods. The Raven Cycle combines the same sometimes-whimsical strangeness with a story that has been taking place for centuries, with the search for the tomb of a dead Welsh king.

The Diviners, by Libba Bray [The Diviners #1]

  • Title: The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
  • Author: Libba Bray
  • Publisher: Little, Brown for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 12th September 2012
  • Rating: ★★★★★

9780316126113_p0_v1_s260x420The Diviners, by Libba Bray, invites us to a sumptuous big city adventure in 1920s New York, where Evie O’Neill is soon to be the talk of the town.

Flapper and party girl Evie’s unique talent might have seen her ushered from small town Ohio to the big city by her socially-conscious parents, but it seems that the very same unique ability will be what saves the day from unspeakable evil.

All she did was tell the truth—and happen to smear the good name of the town’s golden boy in the process. So when she refused to apologise and take back the accusation, her parents decided to ship her off to stay with her Uncle Will in New York until the dust settles. But Evie is used to not being what they want her to be.

And Evie doesn’t see this exile as punishment. Rather, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her.  New York! She’ll snap that up in a second if it means getting out of boring Ohio. Sure, she’d rather not know that her parents would sooner ship her off for a few months than stand by their daughter, but since the death of her elder brother in the war, Evie is used to being second best. She’s always too much for her parents and yet never enough.

Everyone, even her friends, is always telling her that Evie O’Neill is just too much.

Evie is looking forward to a few months in the city, where she can party all night and make a name for herself as the hottest Sheba in town. Who knows what can happen? This is New York! She has her sights set high and intends to make the most of this exile. Who needs small town Ohio anyway? Not Evie O’Neill. And to boot, she’ll be reuniting with her friend with whom she exchanges letters, so it’s not as if she’ll be alone. It’s all jake for Evie as she heads off to the city.

When she arrives and finds Uncle Will as the curator of a museum of supernatural whatsits and the occult, she is a little sceptical, but soon flourishes (perhaps a little too much) under Will’s very loose rule. Soon Evie makes new friends and starts to really live it up in New York. Between the awkward acquaintance of her uncle’s assistant, Jericho, and the confident advances of a thief who seems to always be there when she turns around, Evie will never have a dull moment.

But the glitz and glamour doesn’t last for long and before she knows it, not only is there talk at the museum of Diviners—people with unique gifts, just like Evie—but a string of bizarre ritualistic murders take place and soon Will is called in to consult.

Is it really possible that here in New York she can find out the truth about her talent? And if so, what will that mean? She’s never given it much thought, except to use it for cheap party tricks when the limelight slides away for a second too long—and look where that got her last time.

There’s something undeniably strange about the murders and soon the city is rattled. But no one more than Evie. Try as she might, she can’t shake the notion that something is very wrong. As she follows her uncle with the investigation, Evie soon puts her talents to use. That’s when things really get strange.

Little does Evie know that an evil has been released—and it has work to do.

Evie is convinced the murders have a link with the supernatural and the almost-biblical scriptures left behind at each scene don’t disagree. The deeper into the case Evie and her uncle dig, the stranger things get. Between ghosts and cults and strange old houses, it seems unlikely that there will ever be a straight answer to the case. The bodies keep turning up, each in accordance with a different verse from the scripture that doesn’t make much sense.

With the uncanny approach of Solomon’s comet and the murders drawing towards what seems like a grand unseen finale, Evie will have to use her wits and her talents to get to the bottom of things. There is an evil afoot in New York city. Evie is the life of the party, but if she doesn’t hurry and lay this evil to rest, she may well end up the death of it. Evie might not be the only Diviner in New York—but she’s the only one who can get to the bottom of these killings.

The Diviners is the first of a wickedly brilliant series, where we’re treated to an authentic and addictive 1920s New York, all tangled up with the chilling and gripping paranormal events that will change Evie O’Neill forever.

It’s astounding to sit here and say how inclusive a book set in the 20s is, and yet here I am. There is more representation (people of colour; sexuality) in this book than half the books I read and review. Effortless and authentic, Bray paints so clear and strikingly accurate a picture of New York that you all but melt into the story as you go. The Diviners is populated by wonderful characters who are immediately worthy of attachment and investment.

It’s difficult to say just how fantastic The Diviners is—and that’s not even starting on the absolutely stellar performance of January LaVoy in the superb audiobook.

This book is funny and creepy and gripping. It effectively marries both the grotesque and chilling elements of urban supernatural horror, whilst presenting a unique slice-of-life adventure into the heart of Prohibition-era New York. Between speakeasies, flappers and jazz, we’re treated to the thrill of numbers runners on the streets and the discomfort of the darker underbelly of social politics, racism and homophobia, however subtly. It’s still there.

The bright young things Evie befriends in The Diviners are varied and inclusive and being partway through the second book, Lair of Dreams, I can only say that it gets better. If at all possible. Which it is.

Evie is a flapper who seeks the limelight, but beneath all the makeup and glitz, she is a damaged girl still mourning the death of her brother and the loss of her parents’ love at the passing of their favourite child. She is seeking more than just a murderer on the streets of New York: she’s looking for the most important thing of all. Herself.

Even if you think that the setting isn’t for you—think again and let yourself be lured in by the promise of The Diviners being the most gripping, chilling page-turner of a supernatural crime urban fantasy (yes, all those things!) you’ll read any time soon.

JBI 5 star chibiBray has nailed the 20s and her writing is just the cat’s pyjamas. This book was so, so, so, very good. I loved every single little detail of this book and definitely can’t sing the praises of the audiobook enough. If you want excitement and a really good and gripping and clever supernatural murder fantasy, then The Diviners needs to be right at the top of your reading list.

It’s just bloody wonderful and I loved every damn second of it.

Court of Fives, by Kate Elliott [Court of Fives #1]

Title: Court of Fives (Court of Fives #1)
Author: Kate Elliott
Publisher: Little, Brown (YA)
Publication date: 18th August 2015
Rating: ★★★.5

18068907Court of Fives is my first book by Kate Elliott. My relationship with this book began very positively—the setting, the diversity, the concept of a rather simple plot at the heart of it all, wrapped up in layers of life and politics that invariably complicated an otherwise bare-bones idea. But by the end, I was left a little, inexplicably, wanting. Only, I’m not sure for what.

Jessamy wants to run the Fives; an athletic contest of varying activities and definitely some danger. But in the life she was born to, it would not be proper for her to do so. The accident of her birth conspires with her father’s (selfish) career aspirations to create a very suffocating atmosphere in which Jessamy is little more than a complication. She isn’t especially pretty, like one of her sisters, so cannot hope for a marriage to further the family’s (or her own) status; she isn’t especially bookish so has no desire to pursue a career as an Archivist or similar, unlike her very slightly disabled (she has a clubbed foot—which is seen as something other fathers might have killed or abandoned their children for, rather than admit their existence); and nor does she have a volatile temper and a blatant disregard of care for keeping up any kind of charade of being happy with the life she has, and therefore isn’t left to her own devices or indulged. Jessamy suffers from being too mild-mannered, too ordinary. Even so, she refuses to give up the idea of the Fives. She trains and practises in secret and must often beg and bribe her sisters in order to help her. This often causes tension, since ultimately the girls are nothing alike one another: they either lean into the restrictions and perceived nobility of their lives like cats into the sun, or rebel completely.

Nevertheless, Jessamy will not give up the Fives—and why should she? Even with the threat of being caught, she simply cannot stay away. And again—why should she? In the end, her family will be grateful for Jessamy’s disobedience and her disregard for being the perfect daughter for her father, because she will probably save their lives. When something unthinkable happens and the lives of Jessamy and her sisters are turned upside down, transformed forever and put in mortal danger by the machinations of a power-hungry man, it is only Jessamy who can help them. And she will do whatever it takes.

Court of Fives is such a complicated book—but then present me with a dysfunctional family and selfish parents, and I will have a field day. I use “complicated” in a good, positive way here. I like complicated families: I like real representations of parents who, even in spite of claiming (and also probably meaning it) to love their children, often see them as property. I like it because it happens and people need to see this. What made this uncomfortable dynamic between Jessamy and her family better, is that Jessamy doesn’t always see it—and when she might, her own feelings get in the way of how she reacts, logically and emotionally.

There were times I threw up my hands in utter disgust at the behaviour of Jessamy’s parents and the attitudes of those around the girls—but then this is how you’re supposed to react to blatant racism and injustice and sexism. So A+, Elliott, for pissing me off about all the right things.

Even so, I didn’t love this book. But I did like this book, and I do want to read the next.

I wanted to connect with this book so much more than I did, and I’m trying to put my finger on what I didn’t quite connect with. There’s diversity, different representations of cultures and religions, there’s racism and tension and the suggestion of characters veering towards same-sex relationships (a minor character—and dear, sweet gods, just give me fantasy that isn’t especially “queer”, but that is just normal and happens to have LGBT characters who are 100% part of the main cast and not just side characters—but at least in an unexpected place and with a potentially different story to tell). I should have lovedlovedloved this book. But instead, I liked it.

I connected with the characters, I appreciated the diversity, the tension, the plot in its entirety as well as in its separate threads—I loved every single concept woven through this book. And yet… I couldn’t connect enough to give it more than an enthusiastic (slightly baffled—at myself, not the book) three stars.

People will like this book; people will love Jessamy. At its heart, Court of Fives is a book about being able to do what you want to do—what makes you happy. A fig to imposed responsibility given through a constructed social role, through the expectations of others. Do what you need to do to be the person you want to be. That’s pretty huge, especially when delivered through something so innocuous as basically being an athlete. Jessamy runs the Fives for the sheer joy of it. That is quite possibly one of the most important messages in the book—and to find it in young adult, where young people are so often guilted this way and that for the sheer audacity of wanting to do things that make them happy, this is immensely pleasing for me.

Ultimately, Court of Fives is a great book and has so much chewy, gooey, goodness to really sink your teeth into. I’m not sure which elements of the story didn’t quite work for me and it does rather feel like grading an essay or exam a C+ or a B-, yet without quite knowing why. Elliott presents a vast and varied world that is easy to get lost in and feels far wider, far richer than we’ve been allowed to see just yet—and part of this is why I’m eager to read the next.