Friday, May 30, 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

I usually read a lot, as you know by now, but didn't get through too many books in May—just three novels and an audiobook philosophy lecture. (More on that at the Sisterhood blog.) But my final read was an excellent one, I'm happy to report.


Dreams of Gods & Monsters is the third and final installment of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy. I read this trilogy as it came out, which was painful, as I had to wait for her to write #2 and then #3. The story is exciting enough that it was hard to wait, and by the time the new one came out, I'd half-forgotten what had happened in the previous book. So good news for those of you who haven't discovered the trilogy yet: you can binge-read it all at once!

The trilogy is in the tradition of the angel-demon story. I didn't realize "angel-demon story" was a thing, but I talked to a guy in a bookstore and hey presto, turns out it's a thing. I've never read another angel-demon story so I can't say how this compares, I just know I loved it. We follow the story of Karou, a blue-haired artist in Prague (see: Czech Republic, see: Earth), and Akiva, an angel from another planet. There's an intra-universe war going on, and the two are on opposite sides of the conflict, setting us up for a pretty traditional Romeo-and-Juliet plotline. Because there are so many reveals and twists just in the first book, I don't want to get into details, but you could think of it as a fantasy/sci-fi mix. The angels in this world are, like the angels of Dr. Who, not exactly divine. They're an alien species, as are the demons.

Fan art: A chimaera saving an angel
It's not an entirely naturalistic universe, however: there is plenty of magic. The demons (known more properly as "chimaera," for their mixed animal-human aspect) can resurrect the dead, which is handy when you're building an army, and the angels have hands that can make things combust. The magic is restricted to certain members of each race, though, and comes at a cost. (Worldbuilding 101, yeah?) So mostly the warring creatures rely on traditional fighting methods. What are they fighting about? The angels have subjugated the chimaera on their home world of Eretz, and the chimaera are rebelling. There's a doorway between universes, which is how human (or is she?) Karou comes to meet Akiva. The politics of the angel-demon subjugation, which interested me more than the romance, may remind readers of South Africa, or Palestine, or the American Indians, or slavery in the American south. Taylor has more to say than "Romeo with wings meets Juliet with blue hair." She has a lot to say about how easy it is to make war, and how hard it is to bring about peace ... and she has a lot to say about what it takes to break the endless cycle of revenge.


Laini Taylor is not your average genre writer. She was a National Book Award finalist for this story collection, and her writing generally could be described as poetic. She knows how to use language, and is as interested in elegant, evocative word choice as in plot structure. That said, I have to confess there are shades of Twilight here. Akiva can occasionally become a little Edward Cullen-ish, though thankfully Karou is never anything like Bella. Still, the story gets bogged down a bit in breathless descriptions of Akiva's fabulous angel beauty, and in the explosive passion between the starcrossed pair. I thought the whole thing worked much better when the two were separated. The second book, Days of Blood & Starlight, is probably the strongest of the three for this reason. The third book, which I'm doing a terrible job of reviewing (I'm really reviewing the trilogy) is the weakest of the three, but it is still a strong book. Many trilogies utterly fall apart by the final book (I'm lookin' at you, Allegiant), but the problems of Dreams of Gods and Monsters are not major pitfalls. Taylor goes in some unexpected but not implausible directions, and as I got to the last 20 pages I confess I got a little sniffly. I found the conclusion very satisfying.

Now, this series has attracted a rabid fanbase, and is slated to become a movie. Yet I am the only person I know (except my daughter) who has read it. When I tell people about it, nobody's even heard of it. I find that odd. How can a series be so beloved and yet so obscure? It's been around for a couple years now, so I don't think novelty is the issue. Perhaps things will change when the film comes out.

Personally, I can't wait for the movie. I just hope they cast someone other than Shailene Woodley as Karou.


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18 comments:

  1. I haven't read this third book yet but I've read the other two and LOVED them.

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    1. Isn't Taylor amazing? You are in for a treat with the third. It may have a little info-dumping (that's its weak spot) but she's such a great writer you hardly notice.

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  2. Angels and demons--always popular! It's not really my thing, but it sounds like something that 90% of the readers I know would love!

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    1. I wouldn't have guessed it was my thing either, and I wish I could remember how such an unlikely book ended up in my hands. But I did love it. I forgot to mention another unusual aspect I enjoyed ... the settings. The Earth settings are Prague, Morocco, and Uzbekistan. Lavishly described. Definitely not your normal fantasy settings of American or English cities/towns.

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  3. I haven't heard of this trilogy either, but then again I don't pay a lot of attention to this genre. I enjoyed your review and it does sound like a pretty large scale story. It definitely seems like it will follow the footsteps of H.Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games.

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    1. I think it was having a teenager that got me into reading YA. I never read it before then, but I have noticed the quality of the writing (Twilight aside) is generally a notch above other genres. One thing I'd say about this trilogy compared to the others you noted is that it's not for the same age group, quite. Harry Potter is for tweens and young teens (all ages, really) and Hunger Games was popular with my son's 5th grade class. But the Daughter series has some more explicit sexuality in it, and a bit of swearing. The themes are more adult as well. I probably should have mentioned that.

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  4. Okay, I've heard of this trilogy and have ignored it so far, but you make me really need to read them all. They are on my summer reading list as of right now - thanks!

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    1. It will be a great summer-reading trilogy. I read each one in about 24 hours, hardly pausing to breathe. Enjoy!

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  5. Angels and demons is an interesting concept and I like the settings of less likely places but I'm not sure about the swearing and sexuality bits.

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    1. Yes, I would not recommend it if those things are an issue. It's not excessive, or unusual for YA, but there's more of it than you'd find in, say, Harry Potter.

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  6. 'I thought the whole thing worked much better when the two were separated.'

    :)

    First of all, this was a really well-written review. Par for the course for you, though, my dear. This is not the type of book I would pick up (surprised?) but I met an author online through query tracker who named Laini Taylor as an inspiration so I am glad to have your mind's take on her stuff. I had the tiniest wink of a moment where I considered flipping through the first few pages of this one, more as a primer on the genre than anything else, but the fan art alone makes me think 'fat chance o' that.' Then the whole Edward Cullenish thing and, ahhh, I dunno ...

    BUT. I do love reading your reviews. (I could hear your voice with hey presto, turns out it's a thing. Could even see your eyes kinda sparkle. :))

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    1. Argh, Blogger keeps eating my comments today! I'm sorry this isn't a book you'd like (though I agree, it isn't) because Laini Taylor has a very similar writing style to you. I think I might have told you that before. I read her stuff and imagine your voice. Yes, very different subject matter than yours, but the voice is quite similar.

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  7. I'm with Suze. Not sure this is my cuppa tea, but then again, I never expected to like "Hunger Games" either. (And I'm a teensy bit depressed that's considered 5th-grade reading material. Crap, am I regressing, or what...?) What the heck... I'll check these out. Might as well broaden my horizons to go along with my hips.

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    1. My whole family ate up the Hunger Games trilogy, so don't feel bad! Like Harry Potter, it's sort of all ages. I mean, it's definitely darker than HP, and I wouldn't exactly *recommend* it to kids that young, but they sure did love it. LOLed about horizons and hips. :)

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  8. I also only recently found out that the whole angel thing is a thing.
    I'm not sure if I'll try to read these, though. Daughter comes up a lot, but you're actually the only person I know of who's read it.

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    1. I had assumed you wouldn't want to read it.

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  9. Sounds great! The endless cycle of revenge - the story of the world.

    I have to admit, I haven't heard of the series. I think it's very encouraging, for both media, that the film industry is delving into recent, strong YA works.

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  10. The description reminded me of "Good Omens" by Pratchett and Gaiman.
    Thanks for the review, well done.

    Mike

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