I have a natural antipathy to Romeo & Juliet type narratives. There’s something unbearably angsty and teeny and undercooked about a lot of them, something immature about the approach and the build-up and the type of characters involved. When I studied the play at school it made so much sense when the teacher told us Juliet was supposed to be a young teenager – as a fourteen-year-old studying it, I just sat there and thought, “Yes, this is exactly the kind of stupid angsty romance people my age would think is twoo wuv”. Oh hormones, you have so much to answer for!
Twilight obviously didn’t help matters much. In fact I dislike Romeo & Juliet enough to avoid any such stories on the basis that the concept just doesn’t work for me – Twilight failed catastrophically on such a number of levels that the R&J similarities passed me by until yesterday when I picked up Laini Taylor’s new book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and suddenly everything was cast in a new light.
Karou is an art student living in Prague. She has blue hair and a beautiful, annoying ex-boyfriend and a best friend with a sense of humour and a love for puppetry. Karou has a feeling that she is somehow incomplete, but no matter; she’s a busy girl. She studies her art, charming her friends with graphic stories of animal hybrid monsters in her art books. And then she runs errands for Brimstone, one of those very animal hybrid monsters her friends think she’s made up, collecting teeth for him; why does he want teeth? She doesn’t know. His shop is accessed by doors all over the world, and she travels everywhere for him – Morocco, Paris, St Petersburg, everywhere. And then the black handprints start appearing on the doors, left by devastatingly beautiful golden strangers. And, you know, THINGS OCCUR.
I have a new daydream: I imagine a world wherein this book came first, before Twilight. Where this book got the attention of the world’s teenage girls before vampiric stalker-boys became the Big Thing. Where beautiful writing lightly spun with dramatic, heavy moments, so rich in description I’m sitting here flicking through it just slightly dizzy with delight at the prospect of picking just one quotation to show you to back this up (I can’t, there’s too much!). It’s gorgeous all the way through, you guys. Gorgeous! It’s incredibly vivid, tactile writing, something that latches on to you from the very first chapter in which Karou is walking through Prague and encounters her ex-boyfriend and instead of just recounting this in prose, Taylor throws all these subtle yet jolting descriptions at us, wrapping us up in Karou’s physical senses like you’d wrap a child up in a scarf. It’s ridiculous how tangible she makes these angelic and demonic entities sound, describing fur and horns and lips and hair with such sensuousness that it’s almost like this book’s trying to seduce us. Trying? Not trying. Did. It’s seductive. It seduced me, and I’m delighted to say so.
The last time I felt like this about writing it was either Guy Gavriel Kay or Jacqueline Carey‘s Kushiel’s Dart sequence. I can’t remember. But oh, Taylor made me fancy a man who doesn’t smile or joke, and that takes extremely good writing. It even made me like a girl with blue hair who spent the first third of the book looking like an unfortunate Mary Sue type character – but somewhere along the way I began to care, and quite liked her. She does little things that make her mean (the eyebrows) but manages not to be unlikable, nor too perfect to believe in. The vital issue with Twilight, to my mind, was the absence of humour and banter. Well, Karou and Zuzana had a lovely friendship, and even the unsmiling man tries a few jokes. There’s a levity to it which makes the central story that much more affecting – you can’t have a plot built on tragedy and not have it celebrate life and indulge in humour and humanity.
Oh guys I’m not even going to say anything more. I just loved it. It was like the best European folk tales wrapped up in angels and demons and TEETH oh god the teeth.
Apparently the next one is due out next year. You have a year to read this before I start getting shouty. You won’t like me when I’m shouty.