“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.
“It did not end well.”
Karou is a young art student in Prague who has no idea who she actually is. Her hair grows out of her head a luscious shade of blue, she can speak a stupid amount of languages, and her sketch books are filled with hundreds upon hundreds of sketches of ghoulish devils, all with elaborate back-stories that she tells her friends. Only, they’re not just stories. Karou grew up in a devil’s lair; she is the ward of the Wishmonger, a devil named Brimstone who (you guessed it!) deals in wishes, selling them for teeth pulled out of the mouths of corpses by ghastly characters. One day, all over the world, blackened hand prints start showing up on doors, and people report sightings of strange beings who appear human, but whose shadows have wings. When Karou finds a hand print on the door to Brimstone’s shop, she is pulled into an otherworldly war between devils and angels, a war that she has been a part of for much longer than she knows.
This book has been getting an insane amount of hype ever since it came out in 2011, and I kept telling myself “by golly, I really want to read that! The next time it’s on the shelf at the library I’ll grab it.” Only, it was never on the shelf, and eventually I had to suck it up and put a hold on it, and thank god(dess) I did because this book is da bomb.
Oh, let me count the ways in which I love this book:
1) Setting. It’s wonderful. I loved the pairing of creepy, sweeping urban fantasy with the gothic streets of Prague; it’s a perfectly decadent match, like wine and cheese, or melted chocolate and strawberries. Yum.
2) Characters. Karou is instantly sympathetic. The narrative begins with Karou dealing with her first ever romantic/sexual humiliation; making this the grounds with which we meet her was a great way to rope readers into her corner. Who hasn’t been simultaneously indignant and soul-crushingly embarrassed by a love gone wrong? Beyond that, she’s plucky, she’s sassy, and fiercely independent. I love her, but not as much as I love Brimstone, the grumpy devil who deals in teeth and wonderful gems of advice like this one:
“I don’t know many rules to live by,’ he’d said. ‘But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles–drug or tattoo–and…no inessential penises either.”
I mean, HONESTLY.
3) Narrative: It’s creepy (ugh, that DISGUSTO fallen angel parasite guy. I still think about him and feel nauseous). It’s fast-paced. It kept me guessing until the very end of the book. It is utterly unlike anything I have ever read, and considering the hundreds upon hundreds of books I’ve consumed, that’s saying a lot. Beyond the wonderful story, this is a parallel for race wars, slavery, and genocide in our own world. While the allegory certainly isn’t subtle, it is poignant, and the star-crossed devil/angel lovers who naively believe that their love can be a beacon of hope for their people, who have been slaughtering and enslaving each other for eons, was tragically sad. In particular, I loved the conflict within the chimaera – the tension between those of animal aspect and those who are “high human” was a well-crafted layer within the mythology of ethnic hatred in their world.
Seriously, if you like fantasy with a brain at all just read this book. I was unsure when I first heard the buzz because it smacked of stupid angel romances that Becca Fitzpatrick has trampled into the ground with her Hush, Hush bologna (OK, so I haven’t read this series and you know what? I never will.), but this is GOOD. So good. I will admit that I got an itch of skepticism when Karou meets Akiva – the whole stupid “I feel complete when I’m with you so therefore you, handsome older man, must be my DESTINY” has been overdone to a crisp, but KEEP GOING. I promise it will be worth it, and original, and not what you are expecting. And even if you are a way better readerly psychic than I am, it is still worth the ride. Laini Taylor is an exciting and rich voice in YA fantasy, and her exceptionally promising talent as a writer elevated this novel well above standard paranormal fantasy crap.
Music is Catharsis’ “Exterminating Angel” for that hunky Akiva.
Where I got it: The library