It’s been a long time since I read such a hefty book, and even longer since the 500+ pages went by so swiftly. This book, by Laini Taylor of the Smoke and Bone trilogy, is wonderful and magnificent and in order to keep my gushing to a minimum, I’ll do my top five favorite things about this novel, spoiler free.
5. The world building: This novel has one of the best invented worlds that I’ve read. Every inch of it is entirely new and original, though some bits to pull on recognizable threads. It’s really ambitious to build a world as fully as Taylor did with this one, from the cultures to the diplomatic relations to the religions to the people’s biases to the mythology. Usually, I steer clear of this kind of high fantasy because few authors can pull it off without drowning me in vocabulary and culture and history etc etc or worse, in the dreaded Info Dump, but I think Taylor did a masterful job of pulling away the world’s layers a piece at a time and centering it on a society that everyone else in the story (for the most part) had to learn as well. Taylor was aided in cleverly used commonalities, such as fear of tyranny, love of magic and mythology, and the very base emotions of human love and hate to keep the threads of her story from fraying, so that even though I might be unable to perfectly visualize a thrave, I can use the fear and awe of Lazlo to guide me through the moment. This is definitely a world I’d like to see more of.
4. Thyon Nero: Okay, so maybe I’m not supposed to like villains, but ever since Leah Bardugo Went There with the Darkling, I find myself more and more dawn to those characters with questionable morals and smiles called “sneers.” We’re introduced to Nero in all of his scholarly, princely, golden power at the Library where Lazlo works, and it’s kind of obvious from the get go that he’s no good. He proves himself to be entirely selfish and dark and tormented and ill-willed, but does that stop me from crooning over this poor unfortunate little rat? Of course not! He’s just so interesting, and I hope Taylor revisits his character later in the series.
3. Lazlo Strange: Is this obvious? If you read the book, you know it isn’t. I dare anyone in the universe to not like Lazlo (Minya excluded). He’s sweet and charming and above all believes in the magic and the impossible. He’s the sort of person that you wish you could be, if you weren’t so jaded, and the person that makes you feel a little less jaded all the while you’re with them. I love his story, from his childhood pretending to be a mythical hero, to his adulthood relentless pursuing the truth no matter how often he’s mocked or how foolish others think he is. He’s definitely worth continuing the series for.
2. Sarai, The Muse of Nightmares: Okay, this one I admit to being blatant, but hello! She’s perfect! Sarai, one of the last godspawn in existence, hiding in the Citadel above Weep, is perfect and amazing and deserves the whole entire world and all the stars. Be it in my power to give such to her, I would. Sarai, I think for me, encompasses the power of a mind overcoming itself, of breaking cycles of abuse and hatred, of a person vanishing depression with sheer force of will, and I think it is within range to call her a depressive character, certainly not to her shame. She is powerful, she is thoughtful, she is brave, and she is good. At the end of the day, her goodness is absolutely paramount to this story, and I’m so glad that she exists and I get to read about her.
1. The prose: This book is big. It’s 500+ pages and it’s dense and complex. Besides my enduring love of Sarai, what really pulls this book into perfection, what really makes it worth the effort, is the prose. I’m a total snob for good writing, and when authors know the insides and outsides of their words and sentences, when they lovingly craft each sentence to delight or strike or alert their reader, I can tell. Taylor quite clearly crafted this novel. She didn’t just write it — she put it together one word at a time so the experience of reading the novel was just as thrilling and enjoyable as the story itself. Every sentence is lyrical and thoughtful and as musical as mythologies passed down generation to generation, worn smooth with use and turned song-like in the harmony of voices. It is truly exquisite.
Clearly, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. I hope you do too!