Monday, June 17, 2013

Chat of Smoke and Bone

I started this book in a blur of wonderfulness, stalled out when the characters fell in love and got all schmoopy, and swung back in when everything became worth it.  So worth it.  So, before we get to the spoilery part way down below, let me just say that I loved this book and cannot WAIT to read the next one.  To the point where I'm reading the preview chapters of Days of Blood and Starlight while I wait for the library to tell me my reserve has come in.  Wait anxiously.

Okay, that is the general part.  Now comes the part where my friend Lianna and I had a great chat about this book and how we felt about it.  I asked if she wanted to do a joint review, where we each publish half on our blog.  Her blog is really more of a writing journal, though, so she suggested I keep the whole thing for myself.  Which makes me feel greedy, but here we are!

Major, huge, enormous spoilers below; this post is really only for people who have read the book, or who are never, ever going to read the book but for some reason really want to read about it.  Which, they exist; I love spoilery reviews of books that I'm never going to read.  Go figure.

And thank you, Lianna, for letting me share this; I think it captures a lot of interesting angles on both the best and weakest parts of this wonderful, wonderful book that you should totally read before you come back and read this review full of spoilers which start.....NOW!

Lianna:  First of all, I have to share that every time I mention this book to my husband, he thinks it's called "My Daughter is Smokin' a Bone".

So, I FLEW through the first half of this book in a day, then slowed down a lot and took three more days to finish it. I felt that the action started getting bogged down by the love story, and that a lot of things that I loved about it-- the careful balancing of Karou's two worlds, the hallucinatory wonder of Brimstone's shop, Karou's art education, the acerbically witty best friend-- were kind of shoved aside to make room for the Instalove.

I wasn't that annoyed by the Instalove itself, partly because you had forewarned me about it, and partly because I could tell from the hints that this was a reincarnation story of sorts. So, it's Instalove based on a prior relationship. I'm basically cool with that. But THEN, when the story flashes back to Akiva and Madrigal/Karou falling in love, it's STILL Instalove! That's the point at which the love story began to annoy me to the degree of souring my opinion of the book as a whole.

Don't get me wrong-- I'm totally reading the second book. I adored the world-building, and the cliff-hanger ending hooked me good. I also appreciate that she didn't drag out the mysteries of "why was Karou was raised by demons?" and "wtf is the deal with Brimstone and the teeth?" any longer than made sense. I respect the hell out of an author who's not afraid to give answers in the first book of a trilogy.

But the love story thing has been rattling around in my mind. Here are the questions I've been pondering as I fold laundry:

1) Why does Instalove not do it for me, Romance-wise?
2) Why is Instalove so appealing to teenage readers?
3) What is the role my own personal taste in men plays in the way I judge Romance plots?
4) Is there a way to do the "our love will save the world!" plot that isn't eye-rolling to anyone over the age of 19?

And my thoughts about these questions:

1) As I said in my comments on your Instalove blog post, I am a Pride and Prejudice fan. I am just more interested in and excited by love stories in which the connection and attraction build slowly.

2) If my teenage self were reading DoSaB, she'd be alllllll over it. Mostly for the style (Blue hair! Tattoos! Prague! Chimaera demons!), but also for the love story. I think it has something to do with the intense adolescent longing for unconditional acceptance, coupled with a certain immaturity in regards to personal decisions. If your love is fated and eternal, then you don't have to struggle to catch the boy's attention or work to get to know him. No matter what you do, he'll still love you, and no matter what bad choices you make, you'll still wind up together in the end. 

As an adult, this just doesn't appeal to me, maybe because Fated, Eternal Love now seems like such a slim thread to hang a real relationship on. If love is born so effortlessly, isn't it also more likely to die without a struggle?

3) If I'm honest, I think part of my problem here is that I'm just not feelin' Akiva. He's a brooding, melodramatic sourpuss, and I do not believe I would be attracted to him if I met him in real life. I just don't see what he has going for him beyond being otherwordly-gorgeous. This is my problem with a lot of Instalove heroes; the Fated Love starts to feel lazy to me, like if the guy is really hot and really into the heroine, he doesn't need any other redeeming qualities (except perhaps a stalker-ish overprotectiveness that I am proud to say I have NEVER found appealing). 

It's not that I'm immune to male beauty, but if a guy is really that jaw-droppingly perfect (a la Edward Cullen/Christian Gray), I've always been more inclined to look at him as an amazing piece of art, rather than as a potential romantic partner. Call me reactionary, but I prefer to be prettier than the men I sleep with. And I am no jaw-dropping piece of art.

I like my romantic interests more on the beta side. I'd rather break through the facade of the wisecracking sidekick than the brooding hero.

4) The Instalove device often goes hand-in-hand with the "only our super-special love can save the world" trope. I don't like how smug this usually comes off, implying as it does that the lead couple's superiority over everyone else in their world-- not only are they more attractive than everyone else, they are nobler, wiser, braver, and the only ones capable of seeing what really matters, dammit! It rankles. 

I saw some of this in DoSaB. For example, the whole Chiro thing went over the line into Mary Sue territory for me. Chiro is ugly! And she envies Madgrial for being sooooo amazingly beautiful! But Madrigal is so awesomely above it all she doesn't even realize that she is pretty and Chiro is ugly! And so Chiro betrays her, 'cause ugly people are petty like that. Bitch, please.

Have you read Warm Bodies? I just saw the movie this weekend, and I've been trying to work out why the "teen love saves the world" thing did not bug me in that story. I think it was the sense that it wasn't so much THEIR love specifically that was curing the zombie plague as it was love in general. If it hadn't been R's resurrected ability to love that started it, it could have been someone else's. Also, while R feels Instalove, it's not the Fated, Eternal kind-- more like, "underneath my zombie-ness I am still a typically romantic and horny teenage boy, and you are cute and in immediate need of saving". And Julie feels no Instalove whatsoever; it is a completely one-sided thing for quite a while.

And those are my feelingful feelings.

Et vous? 
Sharon: This exactly echoes my reaction down to the details.  I flew through the first half and then, when the love story started, slowed down considerably--to the point where I'm pretty sure it's been weeks.  I did not figure out the reincarnation thing before it happened--well, when Akiva realized he knew who Karou was, I figured she was probably his dead girlfriend, but that's not much in advance.  Once I got that, I was able to let it go, though it still bugged me a bit--mostly it just bugged me that the story was ABOUT their love, instead of about Karou trying to find her family and solve her mysteries.

The Instalove between Madrigal and Akiva didn't bother me as much, because their first moment together--on the battlefield--was really more of a sensible moment in context.  They had a moment of shared humanity, and there was some intensity and attraction there, and it stayed with them as a snapshot memory.  It meant more to Akiva because he was already kind of disillusioned, and because the seraphim have more inhuman/irrational negatives about the chimaera.  

But the fact that they threw themselves at each other so aggressively was a bit of a problem.  At that point, though, I just wanted the Madrigal backstory to go fast so I could get back to Karou, so my disbelief was sacrificed to speed reading. 

Aside: I tell Adam stories at bedtime--Mike reads, I tell.  No repeats, so I often end up bowdlerizing whatever I'm reading for him.  He's been dying to hear what happens next in this book, and I can't figure out how to explain flashbacks, never mind reincarnation! 

1) Why does Instalove not do it for me, Romance-wise?
2) Why is Instalove so appealing to teenage readers?
3) What is the role my own personal taste in men plays in the way I judge Romance plots?
4) Is there a way to do the "our love will save the world!" plot that isn't eye-rolling to anyone over the age of 19?

1) is easy--I've never been someone who was all about the physical stuff.  I mean, instalove is clearly based heavily in physical attraction--at least, a reader's sympathy for it is.  And, forgive the TMI and the high-handedness, but I've never been someone who's so swept up in the FEELINGS of the moment/body that I have not known where I was.  So it just doesn't hook up with my experience in general, and I suspect that for most people, the further you get from adolescence the less familiar that sense of "lust/not thinking clearly" becomes.

2) goes the same way--this is something we discussed in my library science YA class.  Basically, young adults are dealing with all this stuff for the first time, and so it's way more confusing and intense to them.  It feels more REAL, because they haven't felt all excited about someone and had it mean absolutely nothing a million times the way us grown ups have.

3) I agree that Akiva did almost nothing for me, and standard hotness does pretty much nothing for me.  I mean, I'll look at the guys in the movies as much as the next lady, but what I'm going to pine for is the personality, and Akiva is definitely thin on that.  Another reason the book took a dive when he showed up.  

4) Three words: His Dark Materials.  Literally the only books I can think of that really gave me a reason why two people could actually matter that much without being the Chosen Ones (which is ludicrous), and why their relationship would matter.  I mean, I guess Adam and Eve, but they were the whole world at the time, so not a fair comparison.  For examples of this done poorly--oh, I could go on forever.  I actually love the ending of The Amber Spyglass just because that whole relationship turned that expectation--our love will Change the World!--on its head.

Okay, I'm going to bed now and haven't even finished the book; more tomorrow though.  And I'm already waiting for Days of Blood and Starlight (which title already has a dozen permutations in my head involving words like Nights of Dust and Diamonds and is starting to sound like a romance novel) from the library!

Lianna:  I guessed the reincarnation because of the way Karou kept seeing glimpses of an "other" Akiva-- smiling, with less tattoos, etc.

And yes about the book becoming about their love instead of their love being one of the things happening in the book. It's like the love story ate the rest of the book.

Sharon: I think the problem was not that the story was structured around their love story--because if you have a story about two people who defy their nations to bridge a gap of war, there are only so many kinds of bonds you can make that about.  It's that all the MEANING of the story was tied up in their love.  I definitely think it's partly a factor of being an adult that you really understand all the many variations of motivation that exist in the world.  Honestly, the relationship between Karou/Madrigal and Brimstone seemed way more compelling to me than the relationship with Akiva, but of course, the Akiva one is going to change the world.  I love the idea of Brimstone "using" her like that, and how morally ambiguous that is, but also how good and right. 

But now I'm rewriting the book, and that's not fair.  You can't judge a book on what it could have tried to be.  

I'm actually hoping the next one might be a bit more interesting, because Akiva is clearly kind of cranky and grim, but his fluctuation in his feelings about the seraphim and chimera vary so widely that I'm really hoping his trajectory gets more interesting.  But I'm also hoping that we stay with Karou a lot more.  

Akiva is now firmly in Gale territory with me--I was fine with him till he got all warlike, and then he lost me.  And he only regrets it now that she's back--boo hoo.  I kind of wish he'd turn out to be the bad guy, or a character who has to die to be redeemed.  Not likely in a romance, though.

I assume it's a trilogy.  I hope the next one doesn't fall prey to middle book syndrome!

Lianna: I'm looking forward to watching Karou get her vengeance on.

I've realized I'm doing quite a bit of complaining about a book I really enjoyed. Allow me to touch upon the Awesome again: Daughter of Smoke and Bone is smarter and grittier than most YA Fantasy I've read. Karou successfully walks the heroine line between kickass and vulnerable, and I loved the world building so much I want to jet over to Prague and wander the meandering back alleys until I come across the entrance to Brimstone's shop. And that's pretty much the highest compliment I can bestow on a work of Fantasy: it makes me wish that it was all real.

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