Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

6 Feb

12812550Title: Days of Blood and Starlight
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 517

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil held a wishbone between them. And its snap split the world in two. 

After breaking the enchanted wishbone that held all Karou’s memories of her life as Madrigal, the chimaera resurrectionist’s apprentice beheaded for loving the angel Akiva, Karou finally felt as if she had all the answers regarding her mysterious identity that she had been searching for for her entire life. But within minutes of getting all those answers she also learned that Akiva had betrayed her, and that the age-old war between angels and chimaera had been rekindled as a result of that betrayal. Days of Blood and Starlight picks up right where Daughter of Smoke and Bone left off. Akiva has returned to his regiment of Misbegotten (bastards sired by the Emperor to be soldiers) where he must hide his grief over what he has done, pretending to go along with the enslavement and murder of chimaera so he can covertly try to save and warn as many as he can of their impending slaughter. Meanwhile, Karou has transported what’s left of the chimaera army to a Kasbah in Morocco, where she has taken up Brimstone’s mantle as resurrectionist for the White Wolf. But as Akiva and Karou, in different worlds appearing to work towards different ends, begin to unravel threads of conspiracy, intrigue, and deception, it becomes more and more apparent that they are still both working to the same end: hope for peace.

So, for months now I’ve been getting lackluster feedback about this book from my various friends and coworkers. And I get it, but I disagree. Whereas Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a perfect blend of urban fantasy and high fantasy, to the point that it could potentially appeal to paranormal fans and readers who don’t necessarily loooooooove fantasy, Days of Blood and Starlight is straight up high fantasy. It’s an all out war in another world; even the parts that take place in our world are utterly removed from the world as we know it (excluding the parts with Mik and Zuzana)(and yes I know I just used the word “world” three times in one sentence). While I am 100% cool with this, the genre shift means that Days of Blood and Starlight has a fairly different appeal, so I guess I get the disappointment in some contingencies of the readership.

That said, I really liked this book. I did not love it like I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but it is still hella solid. Both Karou and Akiva’s narratives are compelling, and I could sympathize with both of their plights; Karou for being, well, a bit outraged at her adoptive family being murdered and her people slaughtered/enslaved/bad things due to Akiva being being sliiiiightly misinformed as to her soul’s whereabouts for the past eighteen years; and Akiva for being even BROODIER than before because he got a bunch of people killed and helped re-start a war in a bout of eighteen-year-long all-consuming grief.

Days of Blood and Starlight is a good deal more violent than Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but most of the violence is related second-hand, giving it the distance to make it a bit more palatable and appropriate for younger readers (but not much younger…this is definitely for a more mature reader). And when I say there’s a lot of violence, I’m talking mutilation, torture, and being forced to eat the ashes of your barbecued comrades. There is also a graphic attempted rape which is related as it is happening, making it extremely immediate and disturbing. That said, none of the violence is needless; it is well-written, and it all serves to further the thematic worth of this excellent book.

Because even though both of these characters are being coerced into doing horrible things – whether it is participating (albeit in a stand-offish way) in the enslavement of an entire race, or in Frankensteining people’s souls into ghastly monsters being sent off to fight terror with terror, both Akiva and Karou are struggling for the same thing: redemption for past sins, and through that redemption, hope for the future. One of the overarching themes of this book is that violence begets violence; even though the reader is naturally inclined to sympathize with the plight of the chimaera, the White Wolf’s terrifying jingoist response to genocide is never anything but horrific.

There is also an interesting exploration of identity, and what the self actually is; the fact that Karou’s entire role in the White Wolf’s army is to magically construct bodies to receive the gleaned souls of murdered chimaera is an interesting commentary on the soul’s relationship to the body that contains it. I loved the description of the feel of souls, and her sorrow for placing her friends into the monstrous vessels she has created; her distress at what she must do is all the more poignant for her own dual existence, for she is both Madrigal and Karou now, one soul with two separate lifetimes of memories in one body.

So, overall, this book is tight. It doesn’t quite have that decadent deliciousness that Daughter of Smoke and Bone has, but I am still really excited for the final book in the trilogy.

For music, I give you “Bitter and Then Some” by Converge, because, well, just about everyone except for maybe Issa is really, really bitter in this feel-good novel.

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