12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

Laini Taylor does it again! I was hesitant about Days of Blood and Starlight because I didn’t like the way it began. I was really nervous about the theme of the book.  Where Daughter of Smoke and Bone is extremely romantic, Blood and Starlight is all about war.  It’s tough to read, absolutely fraught with emotion, and it’s definitely a nail biter.

For character, Taylor delivers.  Karou unfolds further as a character with untold layers.  It is so easy for the reader to get invested in her.  In this installment, she comes dangerously close to being broken and defeated, but pulls through to find her true self, ten times stronger and more passionate before.  With her people threatened like never before, she must stand against all the forces allied against her–forces she finds in unexpected places.  Her friend Zuzana is as irrepressible and hilarious as usual.  Her recently-acquired boyfriend adds a new element to her hilarity as well. Their banter is some of the best (and only) comic relief in this extremely heavy, war-torn novel.  And Taylor has brewed up a whole new cast of baddies for the reader to hate.  Taylor is a masterful creator of characters, and this novel is no exception.  Can someone please turn me into Karou? Give me some of her spunk? Thanks :)

For plot, I still can’t say much, because I don’t want to give anything away about this book or Smoke and Bone.  I’ll just say that it kept me on the brink of a lot of things the whole time: screaming, crying, throwing things, pulling out my hair, laughing hysterically in public, etc.  In addition to a stunning ability to create engaging characters, Taylor then sticks those characters in situations for which the reader can’t possibly dream up solutions.  She is constantly taking her reader by surprise and giving them new reasons to turn the page.

There is no end to the things I could say about Laini Taylor.  I really haven’t encountered a series I’ve felt this passionate about or affected by since The Hunger Games.  Once again, I can’t recommend this series highly enough.  I encourage everyone who doesn’t have this on their TBR list to get it on there, and those who do have it to bump it to the top. Now.

12.27–Daughter of Smoke and Bone

12.27–Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I finished this book this morning and I’ve been freaking out ever since. It is insanely amazing.  I have heard nothing but good things about it, and when I picked it up at BookPeople on Sunday I couldn’t put it down.

Karou is an unusual girl, currently living in Prague, who was raised by a strange clan of inhuman beings.  Her world is shattered when her connection to her family is severed, and a mysterious stranger simultaneously appears to whom Karou is magnetically drawn.  He is the key to her true identity and is the only being who can reveal the secrets of her past.

This is one of the most wildly creative books I’ve ever read. Yes, the basic narrative arc has been done a million times (which arc hasn’t?), but the premise is entirely unique. Karou’s story takes place (mostly) in our world, but it is a world that somehow also exists outside of the reality of most human beings.  Her sketchbooks are filled with fantastical characters which everyone believes are figments of her imagination, while only she knows that they are actually entirely real.  She lives a double life, and the creatures with which she interacts are a welcome break from the out-of-control vampire/werewolf/zombie craze.

Taylor has created some brilliant characters.  Karou is gorgeous, rebellious, and mysterious. She is strong and prickly on the outside, but inside she is lonely and vulnerable, searching for the truth about her identity and her unknown origins.  And she has blue hair! Permanently blue hair! I’ve always wanted blue hair.  Her best friend Zuzana is, in a novel full of “best parts,” one of the best parts.  She is hilarious, creative, and the perfect complement to Karou.  Taylor does a fantastic job of capturing the sarcastic, cynical voices of extremely intelligent teenagers.  The rest of the characters are incredible as well, but I would prefer not to give anything about anyone away, even though readers have probably seen reviews with more information in them.  Still, I won’t be the one to blab!

I highly recommend this novel.  It is well-written, funny, extremely emotionally and sexually charged, and enthralling from beginning to end. Being a teen series, it didn’t have any sort of substantial ending–just that transition from one novel to another–but at this juncture I don’t even care.  I’m a rabid, ravenous beast for the next novel, and I’m actually excited about the wait. Sometimes a little anticipation makes the resolution that much better. There is a huge slap in the face at the end, a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming and cannot possibly see the author being able to create more story out of.  But there’s a second novel in the works, and I cannot wait to see what Taylor does with Karou and the rest of the gang.

Oh my GOD you must read this book.


12.19–Frankenstein

12.19–Frankenstein

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So sorry I’ve been out of it lately. I’ve been job hunting, and we all know how fun that is. Also, I’ve been creating a new domain all my own, www.BibliographyBlog.com, and that’s taken some work.  But I’m back! And hopefully back to normal.

Obviously, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein needs no introduction.  It is read every year by perhaps millions of kids all over the globe (or it’s supposed to be…we all know teenagers don’t love to read the things they’re told to read). This, then, is less of a review and more of my reactions to the text.

In school, I loved studying the Romantics.  As bombastic, long-winded, and miserable as they are, I felt at that time that I identified with them.  In some ways I still feel that way, but it is mostly their regard for nature and their hope for escape from the complicated society of man that I feel.  The melodramatic sorrow is something I’ve mostly left behind. Still, I love the Romantics.  In the center of this movement exists Gothic literature, and at the center of this–perhaps the most famous work of Gothic literature–is Frankenstein.

The incredible thing is that this enduring work of literature and the infinitely infamous monster therein were created by a teenaged girl as the answer to a challenge by her older husband and friends.  For those that do not know the history of the novel, Mary Shelley and her husband Percy visited Lord Byron in Switzerland.  One night, Byron proposed a challenge to the poets residing in his home: create a ghost story.  For days Mary strained her brain in an attempt to come up with something good enough to compete with the Romantic titans around her.  According to Mary herself, she was visited by the specter of the very monster she would proceed to create, and out of that visitation arose one of the greatest stories of all time.  It has been adapted for the screen more than any other work of fiction in history. It certainly makes one reflect on our present society.  It was written by a teenager, and most teenagers now can’t even read it.

The text itself is beautiful, and utterly different from what most people think they know of it.  There is not much of a description of the monster himself, and what does exist is nothing like the public’s common conception of him. He is large, yes, and ugly.  But he is extremely smart, well-spoken, and very fast.  He possesses super-human strength, but his massive size seems to reflect the massive heart within him, capable of great love, or of great sorrow and hatred.  Sadly, it is this last emotion that he settles upon in the end, after his creator has rejected and betrayed him. Events do not move swiftly and the novel is not packed with action. As with any good work of Romantic literature, it is mostly self-reflection, thoughts on the great beauty of the surrounding landscape or the nature of man and beast, or long passages of “woe is me” written in about 14,000 different ways.

So, what’s to like about the novel? After all, it’s full of sorrow and tragedy and wrath and destruction. To start, language.  Call me a nerd (I’m totally ok with that), but nothing really gets to me like beautiful, elevated language.  In Mary Shelley’s time, people spoke and wrote in a way that is elegant and thoughtful.  There is a lot of vocabulary in the book that was unknown to me, and I like to think I have a somewhat expanded vocabulary. Both Frankenstein and his monster are bombastic and loquacious. The monster tells a story that lasts for several chapters. Though it could have been shortened drastically, the language is so mesmerizing in its eloquence that one hardly notices the passing of the pages.

Frankenstein’s story, similar to those of the infamous Doctor Faustus or Lord Byron’s Manfred, tells of a man who seeks knowledge far above what man is entitled to know of the universe.  He seeks to create human life, but the unnamed forces of nature do not seem to appreciate this, nor does Frankenstein truly understand how to do so, and his experiment goes horribly wrong.  As with other Gothic heroes, Frankenstein is extremely melodramatic. It is possible for him to solve his own problem in one of several ways, but he must choose to focus on something other than how horrible is the abomination he has created.  Sadly, he cannot move past the hideousness of the creature and the things it does when it is hurt and lonely. He loses everything and everyone he loves due to his single-mindedness, and the creature pulls Frankenstein down to the creature’s own level: completely alone and devoid of happiness. Frankenstein is punished for his arrogance and ambition by powers much greater than himself.  It is this epic human struggle, so common throughout this literary movement, that I find so emotional and compelling. Having never seen any of the numerous Frankenstein adaptations, I had virtually no concept of what the story contained (excepting the obvious). It was extremely intense and stressful for me to read this book, as I knew that nothing good could happen, but I couldn’t help but hope anyway!

I loved this book. The fact that a girl so young could write such an enduring and tempestuous work–one that caused numerous powerful emotions to arise within me–is incredible, and I admire young Mary Shelley greatly for her brilliant work.  It is so unbelievably beautiful.

 

12.7–Monster Blood Tattoo, Book 1: Foundling

12.7–Monster Blood Tattoo, Book 1: Foundling

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D. M. Cornish is truly an unsung hero of children’s literature. I’ve been wanting to read this series since I worked at Barnes & Noble and my eye was caught by the beautiful cover art.  What I didn’t know at the time was that Cornish did all of the artwork himself.  The novel includes, in addition to the cover art, illustrations of character, diagrams of various uniforms, ships, and extremely well-done, detailed maps of the Half-Continent–the world that Cornish spent years dreaming up.

Book 1: Foundling, tell the story of Rossämund, an orphan boy whose girl’s name gets him in a lot of trouble with his peers. He dreams of a life on the vinegar seas around the Half Continent, but when it comes time for him to leave the “marine society” where he has grown up since his abandonment as an infant, he is drafted as a Lamplighter in the service of the Emperor.  It is a disappointment to him, as it’s a life spent on land.  The only redemption is that, out in the wilds between fortified cities and along the road where he’ll be maintaining lamps, monsters hunt their human enemies.

From the moment he leaves the shelter of the marine society, he is duped and misguided by the world and its inhabitants.  He is kidnapped by a man claiming to be his guide to his new life, when in fact he is a smuggler of contraband creatures.  After his escape he meets Europe, a renowned monster hunter who has altered her body to be able to fight them more effectively. Their ensuing adventures together transform Rossämund from a green boy who only dreams of adventures to a young man who’s had them, and he bravely faces monsters both large and small with a quick mind and a straight sense of right and wrong. The book ends when he finally reaches his destination and is about to begin his duties as a Lamplighter. I have no problem revealing this, as there’s really no surprise ending. The novel does not end. It merely pauses before the next book.  As as there were about 150 pages of Appendixes (glossary, maps, diagrams, etc.), the end quite took me by surprise.

There are several things I love about this book, but they mostly all come back to the creativity and care that Cornish took with his dream world.  One gets the impression from many novels that the author creates a plot and then forms the world around that plot, making it seem patchy and incomplete.  Cornish spent incredible amounts of time composing drawings, dreaming up a dialect, creating maps, and building character profiles so that, by the time he began creating the plot the world felt entirely real. There is a wholly unique feel to the book, part fantasy and part science fiction.  Really, I would say it’s closest to steampunk.  Rossämund is a character that the reader can really get behind. He is a kind boy. He has courage and does what needs to be done, even when he is desperately afraid.  His moral compass is extraordinarily true, and he feels guilt at the imprisonment and slaughter of harmless monsters, and elation at the victory of right over wrong.  His loyalty is unwavering to those who protect him, even when he is unsure of their moral compass’ orientation.

The world in which he lives is full of surprises and possibilities. Rather like our world in the Victorian age, except crawling with monsters and surrounded by seas so poisoned by minerals and salts as to have turned strange colors and become hazardous to men’s skin.  Rossämund is a fairly normal human being, but there are others who has strange boxes affixed to their faces so as to enhance their senses of smell and sight or have their internal organs altered or replaced in order to fight monsters. As in our world, there are pirates and smugglers, although these deal in contraband monster flesh and the perverse human creations that are fabricated from them.  At some point the reader sees a ship whose engines are driven by living muscle tissue, reminding me of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. I thoroughly enjoyed my break from the norm of paranormal romance or dragons and fairies (though  I do love my fairies…).  I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of YA or steampunk.  I’d love to see this author gain in popularity.