A landing spot for reviews of interesting books, films, and objects what cross my path
as well as the occasional essay on whatever's pinging the old brain pan.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

Teen paranormal romance with a dash of urban fantasy, this.  Generally not really my thing, though I do understand the appeal.  Taylor creates a really fascinating paranormal world, an interesting main character, and a decent romance.  While I never cared really deeply for the characters, I was completely invested in finding out what was going to happen. 

My biggest problem with the story puts me solidly into cranky old lady territory.   I am so tired of paranormal romance heroes who are beautiful beyond all imagination and of "destined" romances.  Daughter is much, much better about making the relationship complex and real than some other paranormal teen fare (Twilight, I am looking at you).  But there's still this tendency to over-romanticize, to make the relationship the only important thing.  I know, I know. It's a story, it's a fantasy.  And nothing annoys me more than the suggestion that a teenager's (or anyone's) entertainment diet ought consist of nothing but spinachy substantive tales bound to the workings of the real world and better preparing one to face it.  Sometimes you just need a custard-filled doughnut-story swathed in chocolate icing with sprinkles on top.  But even so, there's something off-putting about this wrapping up of impossible ideals in a supernatural package:  Okay, we know there's no such thing as perfect beauty, but, see, the character is an angel, so it's okay.  See, we know that a girl shouldn't let her relationship become the only thing that has any meaning for her, but their love is destined, so it's okay.  We know that love is more interesting and lasting if it's a choice rather than fate, but their destined romance will bring peace to the world, so it's okay.  We know that we can live without the ones we love dearly, but they actually can't  because of Supernatural Stuff, so it's okay. 

This kind of use of the supernatural as excuse to keep telling all the old "romantic" untruths appears to be a new trope, and I think that's too bad.  I don't read enough of this genre to know whether there are books out there that get inside this trope and turn it on its ear.  (I hope so.  Maybe Taylor's going to do that as she continues on with this series--the characters are flawed enough, the heroine smart enough, the set-up complex enough that I think she certainly could.)  There could still be a happy ending.  There could still be overwhelming joyful squishy ecstatic love.  They could still bring peace to the world.  But how much more interesting it would be if, instead of just being irresistibly drawn to one another, they really loved each other, saw each other for what they are, shit and all, and still chose to be together.  How much more compelling if they were complete alone and a truly kickass team together.  What if the supernatural elements, instead of making it "okay" to slot back into the old stereotypes, opened up whole new worlds and ways of understanding love?

This review originally appeared on my LibraryThing account.