Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Taylor)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Laini Taylor, 2011
Little, Brown & Co.
432 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316134026

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself? (From the publisher.)

This is the first book in the planned Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Days of Blood and Stardust is the second.

Author Bio
Laini Taylor is the author of four other novels: the forthcoming Days of Blood and Starlight, the Dreamdark books Blackbringer and Silksinger, and the National Book Award finalist Lips Touch: Three Times. She lives in Portland, Oregon, USA, with her husband, illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, and their daughter, Clementine. (From the publisher .)

Book Reviews
Any book that opens with "Once upon a time" is inviting high expectations. It's a phrase that inevitably evokes fairy tales and leather-bound classics about epic adventures, setting up the anticipation that readers will discover worlds filled with magic.... In this case, the story that follows...is a breath-catching romantic fantasy about destiny, hope and the search for one's true self that doesn't let readers down. Taylor has taken elements of mythology, religion and her own imagination and pasted them into a believably fantastical collage.
Chelsey Philpot - New York Times

(Starred review.) National Book Award finalist Taylor (Lips Touch: Three Times) again weaves a masterful mix of reality and fantasy with cross-genre appeal. Exquisitely written and beautifully paced, the tale is set in ghostly, romantic Prague, where 17-year-old Karou is an art student--except when she is called "home" to do errands for the family of loving, albeit inhuman, creatures who raised her. Mysterious as Karou seems to her friends, her life is equally mysterious to her: How did she come to live with chimaera? Why does paternal Brimstone eternally require teeth—especially human ones? And why is she "plagued by the notion that she wasn't whole....a sensation akin to having forgotten something?" Taylor interlaces cleverly droll depictions of contemporary teenage life with equally believable portrayals of terrifying otherworldly beings. When black handprints begin appearing on doorways throughout the world, Karou is swept into the ancient deadly rivalry between devils and angels and gradually, painfully, acquires her longed-for self-knowledge. The book's final pages seemingly establish the triumph of true love--until a horrifying revelation sets the stage for a second book.
Publishers Weekly

Gr 9 Up—Blue-haired Karou is 17, and, in addition to her unusual tresses, has other intriguing aspects to her personality. She supports her life as an art student in Prague by running errands for her foster parent, a supernatural chimera named Brimstone. These errands, which take Karou through strange portals to strange places to meet with even stranger individuals, reap rewards not only of money, but also wishes. Taylor builds a thoroughly tangible fantasy world wherein a complex parallel universe competes with far-flung geographic locales for gorgeously evoked images. Karou herself is a well-rendered character with convincing motivations: artistic and secretive, she longs for emotional connection and a sense of completeness. Her good friend Zuzana goes some way toward mitigating Karou's solitude, but a sour breakup with beautiful bad boy Kaz has left her feeling somewhat bereft. Taylor leads readers from this deceptively familiar trope into a turbulent battle between supernatural species: angel-beings seek the destruction of demonlike chimera in revenge for the burning of the archive of the seraph magi. The more Karou discovers about the battle, however, the less simple good and evil appear; the angels are not divine, the chimera are not evil, and genocide is apparently acceptable to both sides in this otherworldly war. Initially, the weakest part of the story appears to be the love story between Karou and Akiva, an angel of "shocking beauty"; there is little to support their instant bond until their true connection is disclosed. The suspense builds inexorably, and the philosophical as well as physical battles will hold action-oriented readers. The unfolding of character, place, and plot is smoothly intricate, and the conclusion is a beckoning door to the next volume.—Janice M. Del Negro, GSLIS Dominican University, River Forest, IL
School Library Journal

Author Taylor has created a variety of worlds, time frames, and creatures with such detail and craft that all are believable.... Readers will look forward to the suggested sequel to this complex, exciting tale.

(Starred review.) Along with writing in such heightened language that even casual banter often comes off as wildly funny, the author crafts a fierce heroine with bright-blue hair, tattoos, martial skills, a growing attachment to a preternaturally hunky but not entirely sane warrior and, in episodes to come, an army of killer angels to confront. Rarely—perhaps not since the author's own Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer (2007)—does a series kick off so deliciously.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Explain the significance of the title, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. In your opinion, does it accurately describe the events and relationships portrayed in the novel?

2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone opens with Karou being accosted by her former boyfriend Kazimir as he attempts to reconcile with her by telling her, “We’re meant to be together, you and me.” What can readers conclude about Karou’s belief in commitment from her reaction to his statement? What has this relationship with Kaz taught Karou about love?

3. Consider the wishes Karou earns from Brimstone as a result of her errand work. Why does Brimstone chastise her for spending them on frivolous items?

4. Why do Karou’s sketchbooks have such a following among the other art students? What fascinates others about this world that she captures?

5. After sharing more fantastical tales of Brimstone, Issa, Twiga, and the others from the shop, Zuzana asks, “How do you make this stuff up, maniac?” Karou responds by stating, “Who says I do? I keep telling you, it’s all real.” Why does offering a wry smile after such a statement allow her to tell the truth without the risk of being believed?

6. After Kaz surprises her by posing as a model for her drawing class, Karou uses her scuppies to wish itches on him and thinks, “This isn’t just for today. It’s for everything.” What can readers infer about Karou by considering her need to right the wrong he has bestowed on her?

7. After her failed relationship with Kaz, Brimstone tells Karou, “When an essential one comes along, you’ll know. Stop squandering yourself, child. Wait for love. It will come, and you will know it.” Do you agree with his assessment? What makes Brimstone capable of offering such sage advice?

8. Readers learn that Karou collects languages, often given to her by Brimstone as birthday presents. What might be her motivation in doing so? What does having this unique collection afford Karou? If you could “collect” a language (or two), what would it be? Why?

9. Describe Akiva or Karou. What makes him/her a dynamic character? What are three things that you find most (or least) appealing about this character? What are the biggest challenges he/she has to overcome?

10. Consider this conversation between Brimstone and Karou: “Wishes are not for foolery, child.” “Well, what do you use them for?” “Nothing,” he said. “I do not wish.” “What?” It had astonished her. “Never?” All that magic at his fingertips! “But you could have anything you wanted—“ “Not anything. There are things bigger than any wish.” “Like what?” “Most things that matter.” In your opinion, why does Brimstone offer such a poignant perspective on wishes? Do you agree with his assessment?

11. Who are your favorite or least favorite secondary characters in the novel? What is it about these characters that you find endearing or disturbing?

12. Considering Karou and Akiva’s perspectives, in what ways is Daughter of Smoke and Bone a story about things that have been  lost? What does each of them find along the way?

13. Consider the variety of settings for Daughter of Smoke and Bone; name the three places you believe to be most important to the story. Using textual evidence from the book, explain why you find them to be significant to the overall story structure.

14. How would you characterize the relationship between Karou and Akiva? Do you feel that it changes over the course of the novel? If so, in what ways? Using textual evidence from the book, explain why you find them to be significant to the overall story structure.

15. Using the phrase, “This is a story about… ,” supply five words to describe Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Explain your choices.

16. Trust is a major theme throughout the novel; offer specific examples where a character’s willingness (or unwillingness) to trust others (or himself) proves advantageous or disastrous.

17. As the novel closes, Karou and Akiva are once again separated. Predict what will happen to them in the next installment of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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