Showing posts with label Laini Taylor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Laini Taylor. Show all posts

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Rating: WARTY!

I read and enjoyed Daughter of Smoke & Bone but not so much the sequel and I never did finish the trilogy because I cannot drum up the enthusiasm to start on book three after book two turned out to be, though readable, rather disappointing. My verdict on this book has nothing to do with the fact that the title shares its initials with Sexually Transmitted Disease, I assure you!

Since this was a different story (I had not realized it was a trilogy when I picked it up on audio) I decided to give this a try and maybe work my way back to finishing the other trilogy, but it wasn't to be and now I'm done with Laini Taylor. As I've said before of books, it was more like 4F so it was definitely not 2B! The story was boring. That was the biggest problem.

It began well enough but it took forever to get anywhere, and I only made it to ten percent in when I decided to quit because it was dragging and dragging and dragging. The reader, Steve West did not help at all. He pronounced each sentence like it was...well, a sentence! Sonorous, monotonous, tedious. As pronounced by him, everything carried so much import that it made it not only meaningless, but tiresome to listen to.

The story perked up slightly and I thought maybe I could get back into it, but then it went totally off the rails and into a completely different story which I did not appreciate because I liked that one even less. I am sure the two stories join up at some point, but I had no interest whatsoever in this other intrusive story so it was no incentive whatsoever to carry on, and I decided this book was too long to read on faith. Might it turn out to be a worthy read? I really didn't care. I have better things to do with my time than indulge in what was increasingly looking like a sunk cost fallacy.

The story is about (supposedly!) orphan Lazlo Strange, long-obsessed with the now mythical lost city by the absurd name of Weep. It's miles across the desert, so though he longs to go find it, he has no resources, until people from that selfsame city arrive in his own city asking for help. Apparently 200 years ago some disaster befell them, and now they need the expertise of outsiders to recover their civilization, so they're asking for people from Lazlo's city to join them, help them, and reap the rich rewards. Lazlo signs on and it was then, when I sincerely hoped things would actually get moving, that the story ground to a juddering halt and morphed into this thing which seemed like a completely different story. It was then that I resolved to give up on Laini Taylor and return this to the library so someone else can suffer instead of me! I'm sure there are others who will enjoy it, but I cannot recommend this based on my experience of it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Title: Days of Blood & Starlight
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little Brown & Co
Rating: worthy

Days of Blood & Starlight starts out with Zuzana resentfully dropping a balloon filled with perfume and sodium bicarbonate onto the puffed-up head of Kaz, who is milking every ounce he can from Karou's fame. He was lucky. Zuze had wanted it to be urine, but Mik wouldn’t cooperate.

Sadly, we don’t remain with Zuze, which is a mistake on Taylor's part, because she's the best thing going for this novel so far. Instead, we move to the whiny-assed Akiva, agonizing boringly over how much he's lost, and here the novel is nothing but depressing. For some unexplained reason, he believes that Karou is dead (as does Zuzana, for that matter, but at least she doesn’t squeal like a stick piglet like Akiva does).

He returns to heaven (aka Eretz, as in Eretz Israel) which is exactly like medieval Earth and wherein the so-called angels have pretty much concluded their Nazi extermination plan with the chimera. Akiva meets with Hazael and Liraz, who fight him but don’t kill him (!), and then they welcome him (but not with open arms) back into the military. Why they still need a military if indeed the chimera are wiped out, is a mystery, but they discover that someone is very effectively killing angels. Still.

Zuze, meanwhile is sending hilarious emails to Karou and receiving no response until Mik calls her attention to a news item concerning a theft at the Field Museum in Chicago - an excellent museum which has nothing whatsoever to do with preserving the meadows of antiquity.... The thief is stealing teeth. And it’s a girl. A teeth thief. Relief! Finally Zuze gets an email from Karou quoting Monty Python ("I'm not dead yet!", "I feel happy!"), which I found hilarious. At last, in chapter 13 yet, we get back to Karou.

She evidently found Thiago, the chimera leader, still alive in the shattered ruins of Loramendi, and they now lived, she upstairs from him, in an apartment block somewhere; somewhere on Earth, where Karou now resurrects chimera using the teeth she steals. So after Karou's been ranting on about how godawful Akiva is, and how much she detests him, Taylor makes a huge mistake in giving us a flashback to the time right before Karou (in her Madrigal form) and Akiva were captured. Taking us from Karou's revulsion and rejection of Akiva for his betrayal - whereby she let him live but he destroyed her people - to a time when she was hopelessly (quite literally hopelessly) in love with him, was foolish move. It’s too much of a contradiction, of a gut-wrench, of a discontinuous illogical jump, to accept. It threw me right out of my suspension of disbelief.

It's especially apropos a little later in the story where he returns the soul of Issa, and Karou fails to kill him despite all she's vowed, despite all he's done to wipe out her people and to kill Brimstone, who she had thought of as her father. I was in fear of this relationship and now I'm further in fear of it, because it's way too much of a trope. if she goes back to Akiva after all that's gone on, I will feel that Taylor has betrayed us all.

While we’re on the topic of whining and disbelief, let me say a few words about teeth, and about angel weaponry! I was able to accept that the variety of fresh teeth were needed in vol 1, because a variety of chimera were needed, as was fresh DNA (I assumed!) although I never understood even remotely why they were created in the variations they were. Surely if they were at war, especially for so long a period, then the chimera which were created needed to be exclusively smart, strong, tough, agile, and fierce, but we didn’t see this. That made little sense to me, but I was willing to let it go for the quality of the story in general. Having said that, there was no room for a body type like Madrigal, so how did she ever become what she was? And what was she before? Was she simply vastly old, and had always been that way? We haven’t learned anything of this so far.

Next, the weapons they use. If they're at war and are fighting so ferociously, each side intent upon the complete destruction of the other, then why the medieval weapons? Seriously, how improbable is it that they use swords when they could perfectly well use a machine gun? In the human world, weaponry advanced at a rapid rate, even historically. As soon as a new weapon was discovered or invented, it spread with lightening speed, and people improved on it rapidly. The rate of weapons development accelerated geometrically with the size of the conflict. World War 1 brought tanks and advances in rapid-fire weapons. It brought chemical weapons. World War 2 saw all of these weapons advance, and it brought massive aerial warfare and the nuclear bomb. Yet these angels and chimera are stuck in the middle ages, and they've been glued there for centuries, if not for millennia. It makes no sense except as a trope for stories of angels and demons which of course brings you right out of the suspension of disbelief.

Now a word about those teeth! Like I mentioned, I’d assumed that reasonably fresh teeth were needed (why, when one cell would contain the requisite DNA?!), but vol 2 shows that's not the case, since Karou is working with museum specimens, so then why all the rigmarole of acquiring the teeth in the way they were in vol 1? Why did Brimstone not simply use a wish or magic, to bring him all the teeth from every grave across the world, including the literal billions of teeth from fossils? Talk of weapons of mass destruction! What kind of chimera could he have created using dinosaur teeth for goodness sakes?! If he'd had that many teeth and had some assistance, he could have created sufficient chimera to completely overwhelm the so-called angels!

Okay, bitch mode off, on with the tale! So Karou resurrects Issa without any authority from the White Wolf (whom Karou know knows plans to betray her). She gets away with this by telling him that now her production rate for new Chimera will double, and it does. Issa helps, as does Zuzana, who has shown up with Mik on spec. Mik also helps, so the White Wolf's plan to train his bitch called Ten - which wouldn't have worked anyway, is now scuppered, as is his plan to use Ten to replace Karou and thereby be rid of her. So he comes up with a new plan, which is that he can use Zuze and Mik as leverage against Karou, to keep her tightly under his control, but she vows she will not let this happen. But Zuze and Mik have made such a favorable impression on the chimera that my guess is that they won't have any truck with any plan which might bring harm to the two humans.

Karou also makes an ally of the only other Kirin in the encampment, and he vows to help her. Meanwhile, on the other side, Akiva has won over Hazael and Liraz to his side, but they are called into the emperors palace - which is probably a trap for Akiva (good!). However, Akiva is already aware of this possibility and he has decided he wants to kill Joram anyway, so this but might be interesting. Hazael and Liraz want the same thing, and that's why they go with him. But with Taylor juxtaposing Liraz's internal feelings of hopelessness against the story of Karou's relationship with her fellow Kirin, I'm guessing that Liraz is going to be paired off with him before this trilogy is over. OTOH, you know how lousy my guesses are, if you've been following my blog!

So it's time to wrap this up. Finally Akiva, at the mention of his mother's name, Festival, feels some weird calming power overtake him, and he comes through and does something good: he stabs his father who was ordering him to go alone to meet the Stelians - another angelic race who are as distant as they are mysterious. Every envoy so far sent to them has disappeared without a trace. Joram dies, Jael escapes to become Angelic Villain 2.0. Akiva finds he has some weird magical power which completely destroys Joram's palace, but Hazael dies. Akiva and Liraz escape.

Karou has less success in confronting Thiago. He merely turns around her revelation that there are scores upon scores of chimera waiting to be resurrected in the catacombs under Loramendi, and steals her fire. Later he kills her only three supporters, and when he demands that everyone leave himself and Karou there alone, he tries to rape her, but Karou, using only the little knife in her boot, slays him. Then she resurrects his body but with her friend Ziri the Kirin's soul. How the hell he escaped from the party of six who were going to kill him during their mission with him is really completely glossed over. Thiago's buddy Ten is also killed and her body resurrected with the soul of one of Karou's allies, so now they control the chimera without anyone knowing!

When Akiva and Liraz show up begging Karou to resurrect Hazael, they bring the body but no thurible containing his soul, so she can do nothing to help them. The two of them burn Hazael's body and they depart, intent upon closing the last two portals between the two worlds, but Jael and his five thousand Dominion angels have already come through them, and the Earthlings believe they're angels from heaven!

So we end up with an uneasy truce between the two warring sides, the chimera on the one side, and the "Misbegottens" - angels who are loyal to Akiva - as they realize they have an enemy which worse than either of them: a greater threat than either of them, to face down.

I'm rating this one as worthy because it was a good read, although it became a bit too melodramatic at the end with one switcheroo after another. It reminded me of the hilarious comedy movie Soapdish, but that one was intentionally funny. I don't think Taylor was planning on having me laugh at these switches and then become annoyed with them. But that wasn't the worst part, The worst part was seeing Karou, who was without question a super-cool and kick-ass female protagonist descend from her pedestal to become pedestrian in the sequel. Her anguishing, and her dichotomic feelings about Akiva were truly tiresome.

It's obvious (at least it seems obvious to me - but then if you've read my reviews you'll know how sucky my prognostications are) that Taylor is going to pair them off at the end of vol 3, so there goes the drama. I'll be truly impressed if she doesn't, but it's YA, after all, so why would I even imagine something like that could happen? I'll probably have to rate vol 3 as warty if it descends to those levels, but let's wait and see!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Title: Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Hachette Gook Group
Rating: WORTHY!

This novel was amazing, but that doesn't mean that there weren't issues with it, as I shall describe below; however, I was sufficiently impressed with it that I wanted to launch into the sequel right away. Fortunately I had that option because I came late to this series. It would have been really annoying had I to wait a year or something like that before I could get started on volume 2.

There was a magnificent thunderstorm going on overhead as I initially wrote this, with heavy rain and even hail! It was beautiful, and amazing, and highly appropriate to this story as I sat here with a nice hot cuppa, feeling warm and dry, and reading onwards, ever onwards.

The main protagonist here is Karou, a 17-year-old art student living in Prague (a location which made an impression on the author when she was working on another project). Kudos to her for having the smarts to set her novel away from north America, which is the center of the world to far too many YA authors. Karou was raised by chimera and is taught to despise and fear angels. So immediately we know who her "other half" is going to end up being, don't we?

The saddest thing about Karou is that we meet her in this story as she feels like she desperately needs a man to complete her. That's an appalling thing to do to a character, especially if you're a female author, and it's entirely the wrong message to send to young readers. No, no girl needs a partner to complete her unless she's appallingly weak. It's not a strength to come into a relationship being needy, and it will doom the relationship eventually. Karou lost a lot of my sympathy right there, as indeed would a guy if he'd expressed the same kind of feelings.

Karou lives in a world full of the utterly amazing, and while I am sure it would feel a wee bit mundane to her, having lived with it all her life, Karou's character shows us that she's not jaded with her world by any means, yet I started out feeling that she would break into song ("Some Day My Prince Will Come...") before so very long. Fortunately, she doesn't have seven chimera doting on her, otherwise I'd really have begun to worry! I hoped, as I continued into this, that there was more to her than we learn in the first few chapters and I was, thankfully, granted that wish.

Talking of which, in addition to living amongst the amazing, Karou gets wishes granted. One of those was her "natural" azure hair. She never needs to touch up her roots. She also has some rather evil African beads which grant her very minor wishes, and which we find her employing during one of her classes, to inflict uncomfortable and embarrassing itches on the nude model, who happens to be her ex. He wants her back, but she very wisely wants nothing more to do with him. I was glad to see that resilience in her.

Karou's best friend is the petite Zuzana who knows nothing of Karou's real life and is from time-to-time annoyed by her secretiveness. Zuzana (along with all the other art students at the academy which Karou attends) think that the amazing drawings Karou does are from her crazy imagination, and that the stories she tells about the characters she draws are wild inventions, but Karou finds it easier to tell the truth about her family, all the while pretending it's oddball fiction. In that way, she's never caught in a lie. Her friends have no idea that they are real-life portraits, and real stories of her "family", which consists of the grim, dour Brimstone, who has ram's horns inter alia, the cobra-esque Issa (evidently like a mermaid but with a sea snake tail rather than a sea bass tail), Twiga, who sports a giraffe-proportioned neck; and Yasri who has a bird's beak. There's also a little messenger bird called Kishmish, who summons her to do Brimstone's bidding. And that's where the story takes off.

Brimstone's employment of Karou is an oddity in itself. She will discover his need for her services via a terse message brought to her by Kishmish always, it seems, at an inopportune time. His requirement is invariably the same: she is to go to one part of the world or another and buy teeth with the money he gives her, returning them to Brimstone's den. Karou can travel easily because the door to Brimstone's den opens into every city in the world. She can leave from it at any time and go anywhere, but in order to get back, she has to knock on a certain designated door and wait for Issa to let her in. One time she has to go to Paris to get elephant tusks, another time to Singapore to get reptile teeth. Brimstone won't tell her what he does with these teeth.

So having established all this, we next move on to Akiva, the standard trope angel of the story, whose muscles are corded on his arms. Yes, corded! Now someone needs to tell me what these angels of light are doing with their muscular bodies. Why is that muscle needed? In all this time no one ever explained this to me. They have the power of a god behind them (so we're expected to believe - the most powerful force in the universe), so why would they need muscles? Akiva can burn his hand-print on a door - as long as it's wood, I never learned what happened if the door was metal or plastic. So again, why would he need muscles? With all this angelic power and an omnipotent god, why does Akiva - or any angel - need corded muscles? And don't even get me started on his ethereal beauty and his burning eyes. Why are they so beautiful? Rest assured that he also no doubt has a smokin' bone from which you should most definitely protect your daughter....

Clearly this is nothing more than wish-fulfillment on the part of the author - the tedious trope muscular guy with hair falling into his eyes and a rebel attitude. I already thoroughly detest him and his ilk, and at that point, while I sincerely hoped that the story would improve (it did, fortunately), but I also sat in disbelief at the lack of inventiveness on the part of YA authors; at their short-sightedness and inability to create something new and original. Then I wondered, "Whose wish-fulfillment is going on here?" These YA authors are only supplying what the readership is demands, so maybe the problem isn't the authors, but the readership - the sad state of USA teen females who cannot see beyond the end of their nipples? But no, it's the writers, too. Writing is often described as a solitary, even lonely, profession, but actually it's a team sport. The writers work in tandem with the readers. The author creates the bobsled, but the readers agree to board it with them in exchange for a wild ride - or not. You can't sell what no one will buy, and you can't read what no one will write. The bottom line, however, is that writers could change this if they chose so to do, so it's more on them than on the readers.

So having established Akiva, we have to get the two of them together, and this occurs on a weird mission upon which Karou is dispatched at Brimstone's urging. He even said "please" in his note. In fact, that was all he said, which intrigued Karou. When she visited him, she learned that he feared she had chosen to leave the chimera! This was not even something she'd considered possible, let alone considered doing. She's sent to Morocco to get human teeth, and as she left, she was spotted by Akiva who was approaching it for the purpose of burning his hand-print on it. So he sees Karou leave and is sufficiently intrigued by her youth, appearance, and general demeanor that he starts following her through the city.

He watches her meet her mark and buy some teeth (not the juvenile ones - Brimstone only took the mature ones), but then the seller sees Akiva, as does the deformed angel on the seller's back, and as does Karou. Her mark warns her to run - run and warn Brimstone that the seraphim have got back in! She runs, but is intercepted by Akiva right at the door through which she's desperately seeking to make her escape. A fight ensues, but he fails to kill her and she uses her eye tattoos - the ones on the palms of her hands, to blast him. He asks her who she is before the door is finally opened and Issa lets her inside.

So now we have the male protag fascinated by the female, but we're not done with Karou yet. When she sneaks behind a door she's not supposed to go through, Brimstone himself literally throws her out! She's out in the cold, but at least she has her apartment to retreat to, half undressed as she is. Note to self: if I'm ever going to sneak through a demon door, make sure I'm fully clothed for the outdoors, and also that I have my purse and sketch pad with me. Oh, and those burned imprints on the doors? They go off like incendiary bombs and Karou discovers this when a burning Kishmish dies in her hands. He was sent to her with one thing which is tied to Brimstone: a wishbone he always had around his neck - a wishbone he absolutely forbade Karou ever to touch. And now she has it in her hands, making a wish that she can get to Brimstone and her family and nothing happens.

Well, one thing happens - her BFF Zuzana is with Karou and sees this creature burning, and after a wish demo using one of Karou's African beads, Zuzana is fully on board with the truth about her friend. Talking of wishes, Karou starts hunting down those teeth suppliers she knows of who visited the shop personally, and were paid with wish coins. There are several denominations of wish coin, and Karou needs one of a specific value to get the wish she wants - to be able to fly.

Meanwhile, Akiva has tracked down Karou and is spying on her through her bedroom window, creepily watching her sleep. That's never a good thing and if anyone tells you it's a sign of true love, just slap them upside the head, and walk away quickly. This story had been awesome so far, but I felt I was really going to start disliking it if it was to become a tired YA romance drowned in trope and cliché after having had page after page after page of refreshing, warming, interesting novel.

I think I should say a word here about instadore (my word for insta-love since it never is love - it's infatuation, or lust, or cluelessness). There's an element of it in this novel, but it's nowhere near as badly done as it is in some other stories I've read. I'd mention the execrable Felon (not its real name, but maybe what it ought to have been titled!), but then I'd have to go rinse my mouth out with carbolic. I think there's a case for distinguishing between instadore in a paranormal romance and the same thing in your common-or-garbage romance, because they aren't the same thing - hence the paranormal part!

There's a distinction to be made between a supernatural compulsion and an ordinary infatuation, so I think we need to allow a bit more leeway there, but having said that, there are limits! I don't think Taylor exceeds them, but she comes closer than I like. Yes, she reports undercurrents between the two main protagonists, and sometimes she makes me feel a tad nauseous with her excess, but in general, she does a good job of showing this powerful attraction while keeping it tamed.

Moving right along, now! It was inevitable that Karou would realize, even though she could not see him, that someone (Akiva) was tailing her, so she lay in wait for him and a fight ensued during which he parried her attack without striking out himself. Once she blasted him with those eyes on her palms, he was pretty much done, and she hesitated then, failing to deliver a death blow. We're to learn that there's a really interesting parallel to this. Eventually, Karou takes him back to her apartment where they talk and slowly, an uneasy truce is born between them.

Zuzana came over and checked him out, but as they were all making their way over the river bridge the next morning, Karou still intent upon finding that portal back to her family, Akiva's two war buddies, Hazael and his sister, the feisty Liraz, showed up demanding to know what was going on with Karou - demanding to know who she was. Yes, they had been spying on him, and brilliant warrior that he was, he hadn't even noticed. More absurd, they had watched him being beaten within a cubit of his life by Karou, and had failed to intervene! Some friends, huh? That struck me as decidedly weird and not in keeping with the intent of their kind: a disbelief no-longer-suspended moment.

So on the bridge right before this showdown, there's this weird scene where Akiva espies the wishbone which Karou wears around her neck - the one she inherited from Brimstone. The weird thing is that this literally brings Akiva to his knees, and while he's down there, his face against her legs, he next buries that same face in her hair?! How does he do that given that her hair does not come down to her knees? Does Akiva also have a giraffe neck? That just sounded really strange to me - something a decent book editor would have caught.

And then there's the Liraz insult! (I would love to read a story about Liraz!) "...Liraz was more frightening, she always had been; perhaps she'd had to be, being female." What the heck does that mean? And this is written by a female writer! But it was not about humans, it was about angels! Are we to understand that there's genderism in Heaven? Given the misogynistic tone of both the Bible and the Koran (and all too much religious literature), that wouldn't surprise me at all. I'm sure glad I'm not going to heaven.

But here's the angle on angels: if angels have no genitals, then what does it even mean that there are "males" and "females"? Yes, I understand that the eternal genitals don't define gender, it's the size of the gamete, the larger one defining the female, but this doesn't rob me of my point, which is: what would be the point? And how in hell (strike that - how in heaven!) can there be relationships with them as depicted in so many books?! How can there be half-breeds? And whence did this 'angels have no genitals' even derive? It's never mentioned in the religious primary sources (where angels are, of course, exclusively men and, as far as we can be expected to believe, must be just like men, genitals included, otherwise why specify their gender?).

Frankly, I can't get into this 'war in heaven' angels & demons crap and take it seriously, I really can't, which is why I'm probably the best placed writer to write the definitive angel story, if I could only get my act together...! But it does mean that I'm paying Taylor a really big compliment (indeed, an entire complement of compliments) when I say I have enjoyed this story more than all too many of the stories I've waded through recently.

Now would be a good time to relate Akiva's flashback if I wanted to reveal any more story, but I won't. The flashbacks did interrupt the flow of the narrative somewhat, but they didn't seem that bad to me, and they were necessary. Whether they could have been added in a different place to better effect is debatable.

I liked this novel overall. Yes, there was still too much cliché and trope, but I was willing to overlook that for the enjoyment the rest of it brought me, so I rate this a worthy read.