Question: what if Romeo and Juliet weren’t just star-crossed lovers, but ancient species from another world? Chimaera and Angel. A love story with a mystery at its core. And elements of a society at war. Answer: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.
Born from a seed and a ton of “what if” questions, this book turns Romeo and Juliet on it’s head. In fact, the answer to who “Juliet” is isn’t answered until the ending payoff of the novel when we finally get all the backstory we’ve been craving.
Who is Karou? Why does she feel like her life is missing something so vital that, without it, she’s empty? How did she find herself running errands collecting teeth for a mysterious beast from another world? Not only is this book a passionate love story and a mystery, but it’s built around a world so intricate, you could live in it. The story is intoxicating, the characters lively, and the adventures heart-pounding.
But, what makes it work?
Oh, and Spoilers Ahead. Proceed with caution.
1. What is the Global Genre?
The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a long form, arch-plot, fantasy, drama that turns on love and hate. Meaning the primary genre is a love story. Internally, Karou shifts from naiveté to knowledge. And, there are elements of a world at war, hinting at a society plot that shows up in later novels. Though the mystery of Karou sustains much of the novel, it is the love story that shifts in value from the beginning to the end. Karou starts off heartbroken and lonely. By the end she has not only fallen in love, but has shifted that love close to hate. (Though it remains to be seen just how close – she does let Akiva live, at least.)
2. What are the Conventions and Obligatory Scenes?
External – Love
What’s interesting about this story is the fact that the timeline isn’t linear. The events happen out of order from when they actually occurred because Madrigal, the main character, doesn’t yet know who she is. Instead, we follow Karou. Through her we see the lovers meet (and almost kill each other), their first kiss, confession of love, and are left with the break up scene at the end when Karou leaves Akiva to go to Eretz. The longer love story will play out in other books where the true proof of love and reuniting will take place.
Additionally, the triangle is established between Akiva and Thiago, there are helpers (Brimstone et all), harmers (Chiro), secrets, and rituals. The moral weight and opposing forces come from their warring species. And, the need to be together blossoms a need for peace in their world.
Internal – Revelation
Underneath the love story is the mystery of who Karou actually is. It’s a revelation plot because, by the end, Karou discovers that her missing life connects her to Akiva’s lost love, Madrigal. Brimstone managed to save Madrigal’s soul and hide it from her for her whole life. As Karou, she’s tasked with running errands for the chimaera, though she doesn’t know why he needs the teeth. That mystery sustains the novel despite not having a “clear” antagonist throughout the pages. Instead, the villain is set up for future stories.
But, Karou’s mystery is wrapped closely with the choices Akiva makes and the internal and external stories weave together to form the BH, MB, and EP. The lack of obligatory scenes work because the mystery is so intriguing. That said, the book still includes a strong mentor figure (Brimstone), a big social problem as subtext (war and the value of a life, even a slave’s), a clear point of no return (when they break the wishbone), and an ironic win-but-lose ending (Karou has her memories, but leaves Akiva for his crimes).
3. What it the POV/Narrative Device?
The point of view follows Karou and Akiva. There are minor changes in perspective, but not many to start. In later books, the POV characters vary more. The story is free indirect style and the Narrative Device is a change in timeline that builds mystery and sets up the novel for future stories. It creates the revelation plot and introduces the love story in an interesting way.
4. What are the Objects of Desire?
Karou wants the life she thinks she’s missing. She wants to be loved. To feed her curiosity. To be free to love whomever she pleases. And to live her two separate lives skillfully, but completely. She needs to help her people from the war going on in her world. And to find herself among all the questions.
Akiva wants revenge. He wants to take down the chimaera that killed the love of his life. What he needs is to realize that even if she were dead, his dreams of peace don’t have to be.
5. What is the Controlling Idea/Theme?
Though this includes some of the themes from future books, the controlling idea I came up with is as follows. When lovers sacrifice their own needs for those of another such that wisdom and meaning prevail, they might lose their love but become ready and able to overcome their own moral failings.
6. What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?
Karou juggles her two lives: magical and human, only to have one cut off from her forever. Alternatively: Akiva and his siblings tirelessly work to destroy Brimstone’s portals to Earth so that they can end the war, only to meet someone vaguely familiar in the process.
Karou struggles to find a way to get back to Brimstone and the others and fights and gets to know Akiva. Alternatively: Akiva follows Karou and finally discovers who she is.
Karou comes up with a plan to get to Eretz, gives in to her love for Akiva, and finally discovers who she really is and what happened to her people. Alternatively: The history of Akiva and Karou’s love for each other is dramatized, piecing together their intertwined lives and establishing the foundation for Akiva’s betrayal.