Review: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor


title:  Days of Blood and Starlight

author:  Laini Taylor

pages: 517

format: Kindle

isbn/asin: 978-0316133975

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of The Lord of the Rings (and I don't say this lightly), The Chronicles of Narnia, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, and mythology.  

will i read this author again?:  Literally as soon as book 3 arrives at my doorstep.  
will i continue the series?:  A thousand times yes.  Don't make it end. :( 

My Ratings Explained

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

take home message
The best of contemporary fantasy. Taylor's artistic voice and meticulous presentation make for a book that reads like a legend yet-to-be. Gorgeously written, tightly plotted, atmospheric and devastating--an instant fantasy classic. No joke.  

the basics
I actually gave Daughter of Smoke and Bone a 4.  There was some insta-love.  The reincarnation dilemma bugged me.  I maybe had a tiny seizure.  Whatever happened between book 1 and book 2 turned my estimation from a clever, atmospheric fantasy to one of my favorite series on the market.  Blood and Starlight preserves what I loved in its predecessor while improving on points that concerned me.  Karou gains ground in her new role, displaying a vulnerability and indomitable strength that won my easy support.  She also (in a victory for feminists and people in touch with reality) reacts to Akiva's actions in book 1 not as a lovestruck starling, but with the rage and ambivalence one would expect.  A rage that fuels their tortured reactions throughout the book.  It's just one example of the tightly woven plot.  Secrets are twined through and revealed with punch and shock.  Mik and Zuzanna, far from being cast aside, become integral to the story.  The relatively halved viewpoint of angels and chimaera raises the stakes to epic proportions, to a cross-world struggle colored by genocide, bloodlust, and hapless civilians puppeted by their leaders.  And the ending?  Oh, just wait.  

plot . 5/5
The plot takes on a farflung scope compared to Smoke and Bone.  We open with Karou smuggled away in Morocco in an abandoned kasbah, secret home to several dozen chimaera soldiers hiding from angelic persecution.  Karou has taken up Brimstone's reincarnation work in penance for her role in the destruction of the chimaera  homeland.  But she begins to feel more like prisoner than participant; Thiago is keeping secrets, and their brutal answers leave Karou to wonder which side is victim, which brutalizer.  In Eretz, the few chimaera are enslaved and feeling.  Akiva and his siblings are party to the horrific war crimes of their fellow soldiers--but not everyone agrees with the angelic emperor's thirst for genocide, and there are some who long for their lives more than for the chimaeras' extinction.  And on the outside, Zuzanna and Mik forsake their comfort to join their lost friend.  These plotlines thread in and out, switching between viewpoints and giving both the narrow plots of Karou and Akiva as well as the larger scope of the war.  Taylor masterfully juggles a world of characters without the plot feeling overwhelming, choppy, or draggy.  The end becomes a little slow towards the final chapters, but for the most part, I had to force myself to close the pages.  

One part I will comment on is the violence.  This isn't your magical, Harry Potter fantasy.  Think more Chuck Palahniuk.  There are gutwrenching descriptions of shattered bones and pierced hands.  Glasgow smiles.  Messages in blood.  Perhaps the most evocative scenes in the book involve rape.  There are several instances in which sexual assault, imagined or threatened, is a tactic.  There is also one horrific scene that faces rape unflinchingly and brutally.  I'm still out on my verdict of rape in literature.  It can be well done.  It can also be exploitative and gratuitous.  My leaning with this scene is towards powerful, given the emphasis on the horror and yet, inevitably, survival and empowerment.  But I will issue a massive trigger warning up front.  

concept . 5/5
I miss the wishes.  That said, the truly brilliant fantasy world introduced in Smoke and Bone reaches a golden age here.  Taylor doles out more of the chimaera lore, much more angel lore, and as a bonus, some beautiful additions of North African culture and history.  The chimaera and their rituals are given more depth (though we still don't know, why teeth?).  The angels, however, truly come into their own.  While Akiva's chapters before gave us hints of the angelic life, here Taylor introduces us fully to the mad emperor and his harem, the Misbegotten army of imperial bastard children, the elite Dominion army and its sadistic ruler, the long-lost Stelians who fled the imperial fold.  Rarely does a world feel so realized and fluid with so few info-dumps and hitches.  And added to the mix is a beautifully nuanced exploration of war--from the soldiers at the front lines, the hapless civilians, and the leaders pulling the strings.  No simple good and evil for Taylor.   

characters . 5/5
I adore them even more than I did.  Karou has shed any of her Mary Sueness and becomes a flawed, changed, dynamic figure.  Her experiences have given her vulnerability and also persistence.  She's still snarky, snappish, and devilishly sarcastic.  She also proves her mettle both magically and emotionally.  Then there's Zuzanna, tiny and feisty, who won my heart all over again with her tenacity and loyalty in the face of strangeness, horror, and non-dead bodies.  (I almost died when the chimaera called her "neek neek!")  We also get more of Mik, who endeared himself to me with his mixture of sarcasm and romanticism, but without any of the unhealthy obsession that often comes along.   Then we get more of both the angels and chimaera.  Akiva gains some depth to temper his strong-and-silent image into something more real, and his siblings Liraz and Hazael both become multidimensional people rather than the avengers of Book 1.  On the other side, we have Thiago, the coldly manipulative warrior, Ziri the haplessly sweet Kirin, and a smattering of other chimaera.  One thread even follows two young chimaera escaping from the slave carts; I could have done without it, but it was also nice to see the happenings in Eretz from multiple perspectives.  Not all the side characters are given as much personality as I'd like, particularly the other chimaera soldiers and the imperial brothers.  

style . 5/5
Taylor's style makes me weep for beauty and jealousy all at once.  She writes like a poem, with precise word choices, metaphors I'd never dream, and breath-stoppingly gorgeous descriptions of people and places.  Her description of the kasbah alone was worth multiple highlights.  She manages to write in a way that's accessible for teens but also richly layered and more elevated than your usual young adult book.  It matches the fantasy perfectly, adding a layer of atmosphere as only language can.  At times, it's devastating.    

mechanics . 5/5
The shifts and flashbacks were much better this time.  Rather than huge flashback chunks, any flashbacks and point of view shifts were in smaller bites and rotated pretty regularly between speakers.  It was much easier to keep up with the actions, even though sometimes I tired through one chapter of a speaker I cared less about, eager to resolve the cliffhanger from the last chapter.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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