Warning – there may be spoilers in this review for both Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight. Nothing that should ruin your reading but definitions of “spoiler” vary. If you haven’t read the first book yet, I strongly urge you to stop and go listen to it now (and I envy you your first encounter with it.) In fact, if you haven’t listened to Daughter of Smoke and Bone yet and would like to, I will gift a copy to the first two or three Audible.com members (or anyone who can set up an Audible.com account) who use my “Contact Us” form to tell me they’d like one; I’m in the mood to share my audio love for this series.
Damn that was a good audiobook.
Karou has learned the secret of her origins but the gift of that knowledge has left her with nothing but the bitter taste of ashes. The world she knew is now forever out of her reach and she is once again set adrift from the familiar. Beset by guilt and driven by her anger at Akiva, she joins the rebel army and picks up where Brimstone left off. Being a human among the chimaera would be hard enough but the disdain her affair with a seraphim engenders has isolated her even more and she is forced to struggle with her doubts, blame, and the very real moral quandary of her actions.
The seraphim have declared victory over the chimaera and it would seem that all that’s left to do is to mop up the survivors – meaning slaughter the few remaining chimaera solders who are willing to fight and to enslave the civilian populace. Akiva struggles to balance his orders against the moral imperatives that are now driving him while coping with his guilt over the role he played in the war.
There are some big themes in this book: love and forgiveness, conflict and what begets a continuation of war vs. what can end it, self-doubt and the blame we take on ourselves when our actions have unexpected consequences, the nature of friendship, and several more. While that makes it sound like an “issues book” it really isn’t. It’s the story of these characters and their world and the very real and understandable inner turmoil they face, bracketed by the physical dangers that swirl around them as the waning war between their races takes on a new urgency.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone was my favorite audiobook of 2011. The lyrical writing, the layered plotting, the blend of humor with the more serious stuff, the complex but relatable characters – all of it was seamlessly combined and the same is true of Days of Blood and Starlight. One of my favorite aspects of DoSaB was the shift mid-way through where the world of the chimaera and seraphim came into focus and the history of their conflict was revealed layer by layer. The sequel takes that aspect and distills it to a very potent emotional brew.
There were long stretches of this audiobook that I can only describe as bleak. I held out little hope for even the continuing survival of our protagonists, let alone that their dream of peace could ever come to pass. My initial reaction when I finished the audiobook was that I didn’t like it as much as Daughter of Smoke and Bone. After some time thinking about it I realized that wasn’t the case at all. The truth is, I found this a harder book to listen to because so much of what it evoked was (theoretically) on the negative scale: tension, long stretches of hopelessness, that peculiar literary fear at the decisions made by the characters that weren’t going to result in sunshine and rainbows, serious thoughts about what drives conflict between cultures and nations, and an intricate teasing out of whether I felt Karou and Akiva were right to blame themselves and whether their actions were justified or not – to name just a few. None of that would have affected me the way it did, however, if the writing wasn’t so evocative, the larger issues it made me consider weren’t framed within the context of a very good story that lent them a certain subtlety, and the characters weren’t written in such a way that they almost to take on a life outside the pages of the book and I’ve come to care about them.
Tightly woven into the story of the aftermath of war between these two races, however, are faint threads of hope. There are small acts of mercy and compassion, on and off the battlefield; characters who realize that destruction will never be a sustainable way to ensure the continued survival and well-being of their people and who evince a willingness to find another way; hints that forgiveness, although incredibly difficult to find within oneself, can and should be given and received; and always present was the strong bond of friendship between Karou and Zuzana. Thank goodness for Zuzana and Mick – the comic-relief sidekicks who, despite my use of that cliched characterization term, were an integral part of the story whose presence was both necessary to the plot and to my continued emotional survival as I listened.
As much I enjoy complicated, messy, wrenching, ambiguous novels, I have to admit that it’s easier to immediately proclaim “I loved this book!” when I’m still riding a wave of happily-ever-after endorphins rather than trying to pick up the pieces of my expectations and shattered hopes. I find that it’s easier for an author to make me happy than it is to create a narrative that can reach out and grab my emotions and wrench them about while keeping me totally invested in the story and characters although there’s no doubt that as a reader, the rewards for books that can do the latter are greater for me. Days of Blood and Starlight is just as good a book as Daughter of Smoke and Bone and it added a complexity to the overall plot that I don’t often find in second-in-a-series books. This was an incredibly good audiobook and I highly recommend it.
Khristine Hvam pretty much nails the narration of this audiobook. I’ve enjoyed her work in the past although I sometimes felt there was an element of the theatrical to it that didn’t quite suit my preference for subtle storytelling. With this one, I can’t imagine listening to the text in the hands of any other narrator. While it may just be that I’m familiar with her take on the characters now, it almost seemed that her delivery had softened a bit and took on an even more natural tone.
The aspects of character delivery that keep the listener in the moment and on the edge of their seat: Point of View, Discovery, the Here and Now, very real vocal responsiveness in Dialogue, and Accents were all flawless. If it seems I’m just running through a list of narration “performance markers” and checking them off, well, in a way I am because at no point in the story did it occur to me “oh, that’s very natural sounding dialogue.” I was never less than immersed in the characters and rarely spared a thought for the narrator. The accents were a particular high-point as was the pitch-perfect delivery of humor with the character of Zuzana a perfect exemplar of this. An excellent narration and I strongly recommend choosing the audio version.