Days of Blood and Starlight

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Days of Blood and Starlight (Photo: Hachette Book Group)When I read The Hunger Games, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Catching Fire as soon as I was done with the first book. As soon as I found out that Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the first book in a trilogy, I immediately downloaded Days of Blood and Starlight onto my Kindle.

All I can say is holy cow. I don’t want to spoil too much of this really excellent series for you, because really, you should read it yourself. Daughter of Smoke and Bone ended on an incredible cliffhanger, and if I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure how Laini Taylor was going to follow it up.

Without giving too much away, while the first book took place primarily on Earth in semi-familiar settings (mostly Europe – Prague – and the Middle East), a major portion of Days of Blood and Starlight takes place in Eretz, which is the world of the chimaera and the seraphim. As we learned in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, there is a lot more to Karou and Akiva’s relationship history than first meets the eye – and the introduction of humans into Eretz (in the form of Karou’s art school friends Zuzanna and Mik) creates a whole new element of surprise.

There are battle scenes and complex characters – evil angels and terrifying devils. There is deep sadness and sorrowful loss, as well as strength, hope and love. There is also plenty of danger – from assassinations to assault. In the wrong hands, the ambitious content of this book would be a complete mess. But Laini Taylor proves herself to be a master storyteller. This is the most richly-imagined world and the most dynamic cast of characters I’ve encountered in literature for awhile.

And the cliffhanger at the end! I don’t know how I’m going to manage to wait until early 2014 for the final book! And how on earth is she going to tie up all the loose ends in one novel?

If you haven’t read these yet, please do. A lot of people (including me, sometimes) are put off by fantasy when it is done wrong. This is fantasy done very, very right.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

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Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Photo: Hachette Book Group)This book is exactly why book clubs are so awesome. This time, it was Monique’s turn to pick. Her tastes run deeper into the realm of fantasy than mine do, and she’s a great judge of what will be a good read (this makes sense – when we were lowly high school students and young undergrads, we worked together at a bookstore. I always liked her picks then, too – and you could always count on Monique to throw truly awesome Harry Potter-themed parties).

I bought Daughter of Smoke and Bone at the same time as I picked up the hideously awful Geek Girls Unite. These days, I’m trying not to buy too many books (saving for school in September), but the wait list at the library was crazy-long. I took this as a good sign – and I was right.

While Laini Taylor, the author, is American, there are so many European things going on in this book that it gave me the travel bug all over again. The story starts with Karou, a 17-year-old art student in Prague with electric blue hair. She has been raised by chimaera – creatures that share characteristics of different animals and humans – and occasionally is sent on mysterious ‘missions’ to recover teeth for Brimstone, who acts as sort of a father figure. In return, she is paid in ‘wishes’ – this means Karou’s blue hair never fades and that she can fly.

So far, so good, right? Karou thinks so too, and she doesn’t have much trouble concealing her true background until she crosses paths with Akiva, a seraph. Without giving too much of the plot away (because holy moly, this book is full of brilliant twists and turns) Karou and Akiva find themselves taking on the roles of star-crossed lovers with a semi-Biblical twist. What if there were bad angels? What if there were good devils? And what if an ages-old battle between angels and chimaera could be halted with love?

It’s hard to explain this book without the full experience of reading it. Taylor’s sophisticated writing, rich characters, colourful descriptions, zinging one-liners and just the right amount of romance (yes, they go there in young adult fiction – this is one for older YA readers for sure) make this a great for teens and adults alike. It’s one of the smartest books I’ve read in awhile.

If the geek girls don’t feel like uniting over Leslie Simon’s book (and who would blame them?), they should certainly be banding together and passing this one around in the hallways of their high schools. It’s part one in a trilogy and I absolutely can’t wait to read the rest.

 

 

The Night Circus

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The Night CircusWhat a lovely surprise this book was! My neighbour Susan gave me a copy of The Night Circus to borrow, and my first impression of the cover was that had the potential to be really, really weird (as a side note, the cover image to the right is not the cover of Susan’s book, but this is what was available from the publisher).

After all, circuses are kind of weird, right? This means that books about circus people are probably also weird, right? Well, hat in hand, I was completely wrong. And I’m so glad I stuck with it beyond the first chapter (which, admittedly, was pretty weird, but made sense later) because this was one of the most surprisingly enjoyable books I’ve read this year.

It’s fantasy without being overly wacky. I’d describe the writing as having a lovely, dream-like quality and there is enough magic to keep things interesting without being over-the-top. There are two parallel stories that take place within this novel – one about the magic of the circus itself, which spans a considerable period of time, and the other about a boy who is enthralled with the show that appears and disappears in the night. Erin Morgenstern has managed to weave together an offbeat tale and an unlikely love story that completely and totally works.

Once I got through the slow-going first couple of chapters, I couldn’t stop. I carried this book with me everywhere. I read it in bed, in the bath and all over my house. It’s an easy, gentle read with a very satisfying conclusion, and coming from a fairweather fantasy fan, this is definitely one worth picking up. Thanks to Susan for her excellent judgement!

Insurgent

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Insurgent (Photo: HarperCollins)What’s the best way to celebrate turning 28? By tracking down some teen fiction, of course.

When my book club read Divergent, I was really surprised and impressed by it – and now that finals are mostly over (one science course to go!), I headed over to my neighbour Elizabeth’s house to see if she had a copy of its sequel, Insurgent.

The book picks up in the chaotic aftermath of Divergent and it’s very pacey. There’s lots of new discoveries to make about how the five factions operate – well, six if you count all the exposure to the factionless, which don’t really have much to do with the first book. We also get to meet a few new characters, most notably Four’s mother Evelyn, who’s a bit of a question mark. Significant time is spent in Amity and Candor, which is sort of a nice change after so much Abnegation and Dauntless in the first book.

Insurgent suffers from typical middle-child-in-a-trilogy syndrome (like Catching Fire in the Hunger Games and The Girl Who Played With Fire in the Millennium Trilogy) in that not a lot actually happens and instead of concluding, the book just sort of stops. Because tensions are reaching a slow boil, I kind of half-expected it to keep going, and it just … ends. That’s annoying, because the third and final book of the series, Allegiant, doesn’t come out until October! It’s not as agonizing as waiting for new Harry Potters, but still. These three would have made for nice binge-reading material over a weekend.