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Staff Picks: “Days of Blood and Starlight” by Laini Taylor

“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.”

Last year, when Daughter of Smoke and Bone ended with Karou sneaking through a slit in the sky, I couldn’t believe I’d have to wait so many months to find out what happens next. Luckily, it was worth the wait. As much as I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight was better.

When we first met Karou, she was a spunky art student eating goulash in Poison Kitchen and collecting teeth for her demon foster-father, Brimstone. Black handprints appeared on doors that were her secret passages through the world, the Chimera she knew as family were murdered, and she learned secrets about her past and where she came from when a wishbone broke in two. The angel with the eyes that blaze as bright as flames loved her in another lifetime, though instead of bringing peace between their races, as they had hoped, it only intensified the war that has ripped them apart almost as soon as they’ve found each other again.

While Daughter of Smoke and Bone was very much a romance, Days of Blood and Starlight is a story of war. Karou has been enlisted by her former enemy who ordered her execution because she dared to love Akiva when she was Madrigal. She brings the Chimera monsters into Morocco so she can (quite literally) rebuild an army out of her people — at least those who are left after Akiva and the rest of the army of Seraphim have slaughtered so many. Gone is the light-hearted, carefree Karou we first met in Prague. She’s truly become the last hope for her people, and resigned herself to the bloody and gruesome battles ahead.

While Akiva was not much more than the beautiful angel when we met him in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which was almost entirely focused on Karou’s perspective, in the sequel the reader gets to see more of his depth. He’s more than just a pretty face with feathery wings; he’s a bastard son whose only purpose in life is to kill and destroy and has come to hate himself for it. His relationship with his brother and sister, Hazael and Liraz, was touching and deep. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone it was easy to side with Brimstone and the rest of the Chimera demons, but having learned more of the history and gotten to know more of the angels better, it’s clear that fault lies on both sides in this senseless war.

I read this as the never-ending conflict between Israelis and Palestinians flared up in the Gaza strip, when rockets were dropping on civilian homes and the death toll continued to rise, and I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the fantastical centuries old conflict between Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land and the never ending battles between Seraphim and Chimera in Eretz. What Laini Taylor says within this story is true: “we can’t expect the world to be better than we make it.” Senseless fighting, violence born out of vengeance, and the refusal to accept anything less than total annihilation of the enemy — this fantasy world of angels and demons seems not entirely unlike our own.

Despite the dark and violent nature of this second installment, Laini Taylor manages to inject some humor and light-heartedness into the story through Zuzana and Mik. While it would have been easy to leave Karou’s best friend and her boyfriend out of the second installment of the series, the story is better because of them. Not only does Laini Taylor manage to slip in a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference between Karou and Zuzana (epic win!), the image of Zuze, the tiny tutu-wearing, live-action marionette, charming a demon resurrected out of the smoke and pain, warmed my heart.

What separates this series from other young adult romances that feature fallen angels is Laini Taylor’s magical prose and masterful plotting. The book could be overwhelming for someone looking for a quick, simple, light read, but it will satisfy the hunger of readers who want fantasy grounded in reality, who want to be shocked and awed by the twists and turns, who want to be surprised at every turn of the page. Likewise, readers who loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone for the romance may be turned off by the violence in this installment and disappointed by how distant and aloof Karou and Akiva are in the few times they are on the page together. As for me, I enjoyed the complexity and depth of this story so much more than the first installment, and a soulful gaze at one another from across a cave as Days of Blood and Starlight closed is enough to give me hope for these star-crossed lovers.

Now just another year to wait for the series finale. Sigh.

– Molly, YA staff


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