A good start


2014 is so far off to a good start, book-wise, blog-wise and life-wise.

After a chaotic, fulfilling, wonderful 2013 I’m looking forward to another jam packed year. There will be more travelling, a wedding and I hope more time for writing too (or at the very least if not more time then more actual writing).

Technically the first book I read this year was the new Barry Jonsberg – Pandora Jones, for review in an upcoming edition of Bookseller&Publisher (it is very very good indeed). However, the first two on my goodreads list are these, by Laini Taylor.

Anyone who knows me will know that I’m wilfully stubborn and have a tendency to do the exact opposite of things that are suggested to me, just because. I received a copy of Daughters of Smoke and Bone some time ago now for review, and it dutifully went on my to read pile. And was then overshadowed by newer books (plus I was a bit sick of the whole fallen angel schtick). And then someone told me that I simply had to read it because it was amazing, so I of course, did nothing of the sort.

Until last week, when for no particular reason I actually got a stool and dug through the books in my wardrobe for this particular title, because a little niggling voice told me that I really should read it, and actually I had been going through a bit of a fantasy series phase so what was the harm in it really anyway?

Two days later I’d finished both Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight and was absolutely desperate for the third. It’s due in a few months I think, so that’s not an incredibly long time to wait.

To write this series off as ‘one of those fallen angel books’ does it a real disservice. In fact, although it does have fallen angels (and non-fallen ones) by the carload, the story is primarily about Karou, not a fallen angel, but a chimaera  – raised and surrounded by demons. Karou is a most excellent female lead, with her blue hair and independence, while her best friend Zuzana (described by Karou as the ‘rabid fairy’) is tiny, ferocious and loyal. These two are The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo of fantasy. Unlike the swathe of other fallen angel type romances, the women in this series are strong, independent and entirely capable of standing on their own two feet. That’s not to say that there isn’t romance. There is. Lots of it. But it’s made all the more wonderful by the equality, by the fact that it is the male characters who worship the ground on which these wonderful women tread.

This strength adds complexity to the story itself as well. Without wanting to give too much away, there is a time (several times) when Karou’s loyalties are tested and she is torn between the love of her heart and the love of her people. Her decisions are rich and complex, and when she turns her back on her lover it doesn’t come across as merely a plot device to create tension, but as an authentic and heartbreaking choice. Offering a sweet contrast to Karou’s struggles with love is the easy and tender romance between Zuzana and violinist Mik. They may not quite be the focus of the story that Karou and angel Akiva are, but they are no less important, and readers will follow their story with just as much eagerness (so much so that a novella has been written about their first date)

With a backdrop of Prague and Marrakech and a surprisingly loveable cast of beastly characters, there is an ‘otherness’ to these books that is irresistible. We are introduced to the chimaera in Karou’s sketchbooks, where she chronicles her life as a messenger and tooth collector for the mysterious Brimstone. Brimstone might be a demon, but there is something grandfatherly about him, despite his horns. Similarly there is something maternal about Issa, the snake headed female bodied woman. It is these warm familial qualities that play on our expectations of characters in this genre and what makes this series such a unique standout amid so many.

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