Tag Archives: guy gavriel kay

Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone

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.

Catch up + Under Heaven

It’s been a while since I last posted because I’ve been knocked by a viral infection followed by something nastier which I’m on antibiotics for, so at least I’m getting better.  Three bouts of ill health in as many weeks – massive fail, immune system!

The upshot of this is the amount of reading I was planning to get through; I ended up reading Under Heaven, Willow, The Court of the Air, Temeraire and quite a lot of blogs.  Four books in ten days while I’ve been stuck at home is a pretty miserable count, but most of the time lag I blame on The Court of the Air.  I’ll explain in a bit.

Firstly, Under Heaven.  It was glorious.  I finished it over a week ago and it is still overshadowing everything I’m reading; the ending was moving and beautiful, the writing was wonderfully crafted without being overly descriptive (in earlier works Kay has at times swerved towards being over the top), and all the characters were so well-rendered it was sad to let them go.  There’s something about Kay’s women that makes them immensely pleasing to read about – Li-Mei was terrific, her scene in the cave standing out as yet another eerie and atmospheric moment like the opening beside the lake.

One thing that speaks volumes about Kay’s skill is his shift in tenses when things are occurring from a woman’s perspective – the female perspective is in the present tense.  In the hands of a lesser writer it wouldn’t work, but here it does; not just because it works to highlight the fact that we’re seeing a woman’s point of view in a masculine world, and certainly not because their tales need that undercurrent of tension the present tense often affords, but because it gives the reader a sense of fluidity.  Nothing is quite set in stone, she is mutable, she can still affect the course of events.  Or that’s how I read it, at any rate, especially considering the characters of Rain and Wen Zhou.

While Li-Mei was my favourite character of the book I was delighted that in the protagonist, Tai, there was the perfect balance of the naive avatar for the reader and actual easy-to-get character.  So many fantasy books make the massive, clanging error of having a central character completely devoid of any ability to decide or stand up for themselves, wandering through the plot as passive entities just to show off worldbuilding and plot, but Tai’s personality is clear.  I actually liked him and didn’t feel like I was being manipulated into doing so.

Kay’s main theme is war, the men who go to war and the many casualties; after all, the reason for Tai’s work by the lake is a tribute to his late father, who suffered the memory of the battle that took place there years before.  The lake is haunted by the ghosts of the unburied.  As the book goes on there are other casualties of war, from all walks of life, in all manner of ways.  Kay’s inclusion of a few snapshots of life from some of the “normal” characters, the ones who get caught up in the massive machine of empire and history without making the pages of the history books, adds another layer to the narrative.  So much is easily forgotten when these moments of immensity occur.

The whole work is bittersweet and tremendous.  I am annoyed I won’t be able to read it for the first time ever again.  It was that sort of experience.

After, I wanted something lighter.  I read Willow, the book of the film featuring Val Kilmer, little people and very little sense or logic.  See the next post for that I thought (although I bet you can guess).

“Under Heaven”, Glee and my unfortunate tea habit

I’ve been wrong before.  It’s the sort of thing I need to get out of the way when I begin something new, like this blog; I’ve been wrong before, nowhere near as much as I’ve been right, but no one notices that sort of thing.  This is a blog about a lot of things (pretty things, fantasy/sci fi things, things in general) that I’m going to comment on and someone, somewhere, is going to say I’m wrong.  Which is great.  Everyone gets to be wrong sometimes.

So, moving on!

Recently I won a load of books (fifteen, to be precise) from Voyager, HarperCollins’ fantasy imprint, and it’s been giving me a lot of joy as free books are wont to do.  One of the books is Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven and everyone who knows me is aware of my massive burning adoration for GGK.  Tigana, one of my favourite books, changed my understanding of what fantasy could be; the depth and breadth of his research make his world(s) so vivid I forget they’re fantasy, or even fiction at that.  His recent work has been a bit patchy (Ysabel was lacklustre and Last Light of the Sun just seemed like a shadow of an effort in comparison to his previous work) but Under Heaven is a brilliant read after only four chapters and looks set to get even better.

You gave a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You gave him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor.

GGK is a poet as much as an author.  His work moves at a stately place, giving us a really eerie and beautiful introduction to his world through Tai’s work digging gaves at the side of a great lake, the site of a battle his recently deceased father fought at many years before.  At night he hears the cries of the unburied dead.  It sent shivers down my spine, not because it was scary, but because it had atmosphere.  Sometimes you really crave a book that’s short and sharp and sweet and simple, other times you want something you have to sit and ponder and revel in.  GGK writes that sort of book; the big glossy knots of plotlines and characters with blindingly good writing.  Tai is given two hundred and fifty horses and steps into a world of danger and intrigue, becomes a target for assassins, and everything changes.  GGK’s classic ability to write about people on a personal level at the same time as the warp and weft of history is already evident and I’ve barely started the damn book.  I’m four chapters in, really enjoying it and hoping it maintains this pace!

On a completely different note, I’ve found it.  I’ve found that point when I knew Glee was going to be immense.  I think I even posted about it on Facebook when I saw it, but I’ve rediscovered it, and this is why Glee is awesome:

Catching that one scene again completely cured the irritation I felt over the most recent episode of Gossip Girl.  And on the subject of tv – the final season of Ashes to Ashes begins on the 2nd April, same day as Stargate: Universe starts airing again in the US after that EXTREMELY trying hiatus.  Bones comes back on the 1st as well, I believe.  I am excited.  Sad, because Ashes to Ashes has been one of the best tv series I’ve seen in recent times, but excited, because, well – Stargate: Universe!

Time to have some more tea; peppermint, today. I’ve drunk all the green tea & lemon. I quite literally have the worst tea addiction since records began. I should just mainline it, might save time and washing up.