Opening: “Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seemed like just another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its Januaryness.”
I actually read this one earlier in the month and have been putting off writing about it. Because everyone else I know who’s read it luuuurrrrved it, and I had slightly mixed feelings. I mean, I liked it! I liked it quite a lot. But, yeah, mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I love Laini Taylor, and I’m always disposed to like books written by authors I like. It sounds bad and non-objective (which it is, but objectivity is over-rated anyway). It’s also true.
And Karou is a fascinating main character. When we first meet her, she seems ordinary–an art student in Prague. And so Taylor creates an sense of expected narrative. It’s the one we all know: something will happen and she will be pulled from her ordinary world into a world of magic, more or less benign. It’s the setup for a HUGE sub-group of fantasy books, from Narnia to Neverwhere (which I’m reading right now). The genius part of DoS&B is that it partly follows this pattern. But Karou’s ordinariness includes the extraordinary. I won’t reveal too much of it, but in her life messengers who look like crows are an everyday occurrence. And Taylor, brilliantly, treats that whole part of Karou’s world just as matter-of-factly as Zuzana and the art and Prague.
On the other hand, I didn’t buy into Akiva and Karou’s relationship until near the end of the book, when All is Revealed. This meant that most of the time I was reading, I was thinking black thoughts about how every romance in current YA follows the same path and how I’m so tired of reading about people who fall in love at first sight*. This is kind of a problem, both because it jolted me out of the story, and because it meant that I didn’t buy the idea of the romance for a really long time. Now, you can quite rightly say that not every reader would have this reaction, and maybe even that I should have put that aside. However, none of us reads in a vacuum. And as I’m thinking about it now, I’m still not sure whether this was a problem of my reaction, or whether the timing of new information within the story was off. If I had known the solution, or had a better chance of guessing it, before Karou, the whole would have worked.
BUT! This is also the first book in at least a two-book series. Now that everything is revealed, I will have a much easier time with Akiva and Karou’s relationship, whatever form that takes. And, again, it’s not that I disliked this book at all–Taylor’s writing is excellent, as always, and I love the imagery of Prague, of Brimstone’s shop, and all the different worlds Karou encounters. So, in the end, I’m excited for the next book, and I suspect I’ll like this one a lot more, on re-reading.
* I am perfectly willing to accept that it sometimes happens, but in every single book? Please, no.
Book source: public library
Book information: Little, Brown, and Co., 2011; YA