Like so many books published of late, Daughter of Smoke and Bone had what promised to be a wonderful premise. Pseudo-angels vs. pseudo-demons, with portals into the human world from the mysterious realm of Brimstone, the ‘Wishmonger’. A funky female protagonist, Karou, and all set in the beautiful city of Prague. Throw in a little forbidden romance and the stage is set. Karou is instantly a character with whom you wish to spend more time, if only to find out how such a peculiar human being came into existence. Karou herself has questions, not only about her life, but also about her inexplicable job as a globe-trotting trader in teeth.
Billed as Northern Lights meets Pan’s Labyrinth, this novel should be utterly spectacular.
Alas, while it started well, with complex and unique characters, and a relatively lively pace, it was soon plagued by the pit falls that have become many a book since the runaway popularity of the Twilight Saga. Clichés overtook the elements that were at first so absorbing, and it took the form of a story you have now read so many times, which you can put the book down as soon as it begins to unfold, for you already know exactly how it will play out, and exactly how it will end.
While the romantic aspect is present from the start, it is initially interspersed with an intriguing set of circumstances the reader is drawn into, and a puzzle you cannot help but need to solve. The writing is solid, not spectacular literature, but certainly far better than a lot of Young Adult material, with some beautiful descriptions and a smattering of amusing dialogue. Then there comes a point where the plot takes, what can only be described as, the Twilight Twist. The entire novel becomes about the romance, and as a consequence drops the aspects of the plot which were actually unique and interesting. Major events are somehow left unresolved as a brand new and totally unoriginal subplot pops up out of nowhere, overtaking the whole novel. You are left with the impression that the printers made an error, and stuck the first part of a promising novel to the second half of something very dull.
Another let down of the novel is its setting, for while there are some stunning descriptions of Prague, you get no sense at all of Czech culture; it’s an American novel on holiday. In addition there are several scenes – some of them quite lengthily – which have no real function, other than playing out what is obviously something the author thought was a fun idea. While there is no disputing that some of these scenes are, indeed, quite fun, others are simply girlish fantasies, the rest just plain dull.
The saving grace of Daughter of Smoke and Bone is, as with Twilight, as with Fifty Shades of Grey, that it is – at least for some people – wonderful escapology. For the actual Young Adult audience, there’s no doubt it’s a magnificent read, a fact attested by the popularity of the novel. For the older audience who still like to indulge their inner teen once in a while, the same can probably be said. For the rest of us though, who like a little more substance to the books we read, even when reading for an escape, it falls short. Worse still, one can only infer from the direction the novel takes that the best has already occurred, and the sequel will bring nothing but further disappointment.