Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Days of Blood and Starlight," by Laini Taylor

The Primary Cast:

Karou: A teenage girl as well as the resurrected soul of Madrigal, the chimaera who dared to love a seraph, Karou has now rejected that love and lives in shame of it. She's become the chimaera rebels' new resurrectionist to atone for her crimes - even as she starts to doubt their new, ultra-violent tactics.

Akiva: Horrified at his complicity in the destruction of the chimaera (done in wrong-headed revenge for the death of his chimaera beloved), he knows Karou will never forgive him - but he'll still do whatever he can to protect the chimaera from the seraph emperor's forces.

The Secondary Cast:

Zuzana: Karou's awesomely cool human BFF. With rain or shine, or burning Moroccan deserts,  or possible man-eating monsters, or evil angels ... she'll still be there to have Karou's back!

Mik: Zuzana's totally smitten violinist boyfriend.

Thiago: The glorious leader of the chimaera's surviving rebel forces - and the man who initially murdered Madrigal when he caught her and Akiva together. Although he acts like he'd like to kiss and make up. Awkward.

Ziri: A former friend of Madrigal's, he becomes Karou's ally. More than a little in love with her, when he gets the chance to prove his undying loyalty, he takes it - in a spectacularly surprising fashion.

Liraz: Akiva's half-sister and fighting partner. Initially a loyal soldier to the cause, with Akiva's help she comes to see that their emperor cares nothing for their lives if it means more glory for himself.

Hazael: Akiva and Liraz's humorous and light-hearted brother. A comic relief who can actually hold his own in a fight.

Jael: The seraph emperor's creepy, bloodthirsty, scar-faced, super-rapist general brother. Well that sounds promising.

Angst Checklist:

  • War
  • Genocide
  • Sexual Assault
  • I'm totally responsible for the massive genocide of my people so I'm not allowed to be happy or have nice things, ever.
  • How to Make Friends and Influence Seraphim
  • My boyfriend is willing to cross deserts to marry me, how can I best use this to my benefit?
  • Wolfheaded Bitches Be Crazy
  • I have to Friendzone my former murderer, how awkward is this going to be?
  • Flying is still awesome
  • Promoting Peace and Hope during Wartime
  • Recovering from Grief
  • Forgiving Transgressions

The Word: Previously, in Daughter of Smoke and Bone...(which I highly recommend you read first)

Karou was a teenager studying art in Prague by day and collecting teeth for her loving family of monsters by night. While she'd grown up knowing her horned father-figure Brimstone loved her, he refused to tell her anything about her heritage or the mysterious tattoos on her hands.

In the novel, she wound up stumbling upon a millennia-spanning war between monsters (chimaera) and angels (seraphim). She discovered that she had, in fact, been born a chimaera named Madrigal, but had been murdered for falling in love with Akiva, a seraph. As it turns out, Brimstone had secretly resurrected her into human form with his magic, in order to preserve the hope that monsters and angels could one day give up their war and live in peace.

However, before Akiva and Karou could figure out who she really was, the seraphim armies (using Akiva's inside information) stormed the chimaera capital of Loramendi and razed it to the ground - with all of Karou's family (Brimstone included) inside.

And now, for Days of Blood and Starlight...

Karou is devastated by the annihilation of Loramendi and her chimaera family, and tormented by her unwitting culpability in it. To atone, she puts her Brimstone's training to good use by becoming a resurrectionist for the remaining chimaera forces, a person capable of collecting a dead chimaera's soul and reattaching it to a new body. She spends her days slowly rebuilding rebel leader Thiago's soldiers into newer, stronger bodies - using her own physical pain to summon the powerful magic.

The Karou in this book is a much darker, sadder creature than the protagonist of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. For the first several chapters, she's so deeply mired in guilt and self-hatred that she can't even bring herself to reach out to her former chimaera friends, who now suspect her as a traitor, or question Thiago's increasingly brutal tactics. While she hasn't entirely forgotten Brimstone's ultimate dream of peace, she has no idea how to breach the topic without confirming everyone's suspicions that she's an angel-loving traitor.

For the first half of the book I wondered if we would ever see a glimmer of that fierce, clever Karou again, but Laini Taylor doesn't let us down. Karou's character development parallels that of the land of Eretz - after so much suffering and death, can anything as brave and beautiful as the idea of peace bloom again?

And without spoiling too much, let me just say, thank God for Zuzana and Mik. This book would have been hideously depressing without them.

Akiva, meanwhile, rotating on his own guilt rotisserie for his complicity in the destruction of Loramendi and his unwitting betrayal of Karou/Madrigal, returns home with his siblings, Hazael and Liraz, with the intent to stir rebellion against the seraph empire from within. While they attacked him in the previous book for his pro-chimaera ways, Akiva's siblings slowly start to realize that the seraph Emperor's thirst for conquest will not be satisfied by the extinction of the chimaera, and there's no telling how many more seraph lives he'll gladly funnel into the war machine to get what he wants.

While this book maintains the gorgeous use of language and original world building of its predecessor, Days of Blood and Starlight does suffer a little from Middle Book Itis. Things are almost unrelentingly bleak and difficult for our protagonists from beginning to end, the pacing drags in places, and while it does further the storyline and set up an excellent plotline for the next (final?) book, when all is said and done, not too much physically happens in this novel until the very end.

That's not to say that nothing happens, but Days of Blood and Starlight is a more introspective novel. Our characters spend more time analyzing and reacting. Akiva and Karou now fight for opposing sides, and as each side tries to up the stakes in bloodier and more horrific ways, our protagonists wrestle with the gruesome and conflicting ethics of war, and wonder if either side even thinks about peace - or only about victory.

As you can probably tell from reading this review, Laini Taylor has written an incredibly dense fantasy epic. The lavish settings, the mythology, the expanding cast of characters, the world-building, the backstories and character histories and drama - even in a book where "not too much physically happens" there is still so much going on that you can't help but be dazzled by it. Days of Blood and Starlight is an intricately-developed, gorgeously written follow-up that carries the story forward and promises even more to come.

You can purchase Days of Blood and Starlight here.


  1. Great review! This one sounds a little too intense for me, but I might change my mind after reading the first one. I keep hearing nothing but good things about Laini's prose, so still want to give her a chance.

    1. You definitely should, it's really really good.

  2. thank God for Zuzana and Mik


    As much as I loved feeling depressed at a bleak and war-filled future, their comedic relief was appreciated. It was also a nice juxtaposition of what Karou's life once looked like, while we watched her struggle with her guilt, grief and responsibility in her new life.