Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood and Starlight,
by Laini Taylor
Daughter of Smoke and Bone Book 2
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
517 pages, Kindle Edition
Published November 2012
Source: NetGalley

The first book in the series left me impressed even with heightened expectations from glowing recommendations. I really had no idea what to expect from the second. Could it keep feeling fresh, or would it rehash the same themes? Would the characters remain engaging? In what directions would the plot be taken and would its emphasis focus on the romance angles or not? It is easy for a series to unravel after a well-received introduction.

Thankfully, Taylor makes this middle volume and its characters go places, focusing more on the battles and larger scale conflicts between the ‘angels’ and ‘devils’ side of the war. Where the focus of the first book was on the development of protagonist Karou and her personal relationship with Akiva, this focuses on the larger issues of what that relationship now means within the historical context Karou has uncovered by the end of volume one. The scale here is larger, and the themes transfer from being centered on personal or ‘destined’ romance to ones of war, what situations of conflict do to influence lives and how prolonged conflicts can enter into never-ending cycles of loss and retribution.

If these are changes you weren’t expecting, and leads the stories into directions you don’t care to go, this may frustrate you. Liking the first book won’t mean you’ll like the second. But, if you find yourself appreciating the broadening of scope with new characters, new relationships, and most certainly new complications, I think you’d still love this.

Despite continuing to love the story here and the characters, and appreciating the evolutions Taylor writes to avoid simply repeating the same story again, her style of writing begins to get old. Specifically, Taylor tends to forward the plot by ending a chapter with a sudden revelation or occurrence (often in cliff-hanger fashion) followed by starting the next chapter well ahead in time. She then goes back and fills in the missing details of how the character or plot got from the end of the previous chapter to the start of the next. This technique really maximizes reader interest, but when used continually over the course of the two novels it begins to lose its charm.

I’m eager to see where this story and its characters go in the presumably last novel of the series. I would expect a merging of the first two novels and the battle between these two races entering fully into our Earth. I suspect the events will surprise me and the underlying themes of individuals struggling to connect humanely amid horrific conflict will continue to prove interesting.

Four Stars out of Five

The Dirty Streets of Heaven, by Tad Williams

The Dirty Streets of Heaven,
by Tad Williams
(Boddy Dollar Series Book 1)
Publisher: DAW
ISBN: 0756407907
441 pages, paperback
Published July 2013
(Original Publ: September 2012)
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

A shelf in my library holds the first two novels of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn epic fantasy series, but rather than start those I ended up getting another one of his books instead, in this case the first volume of an ‘urban fantasy’ series whose second book is about to be released. I knew nothing about this, and generally don’t enjoy urban fantasy as much as other parts of the genre.

Upon starting to read it I discovered I didn’t want to put it down, perhaps because I am more unfamiliar with books like it, so it seemed truly fresh. The novel is a fantasy featuring angels and demons in present-day history, but the heart of it is noir crime fiction, complete with witty, snarky, and at times jaded first-person narration, double crosses, and sultry femme fatales. Rather than each of these elements being grounded firmly in an urban crime ‘reality’ it is built around a fantastic realm constructed by Williams.

This realm is one of the afterlife, and the battle/competition between heaven and hell. But not in any particular religious sense. The afterlife here is really nothing more than a second existence with different physics and even less freedom. The deceased, or reborn as it were, are judged and placed on team heaven or hell in an afterlife that is full of rules and assumptions, but more uncertainties than their previous Earth-bound life. Moreover, souls aren’t much changed, not all the good are squeaky clean, and perhaps the damned have a bit of love still within them.

The uncertainties of this post existence for the characters makes this Williams-constructed universe intriguing, and makes one eager to see what more is revealed about the truth behind it in future volumes. For this one, many of the mysteries will remain unanswered beyond the immediate plot driving the protagonist/narrator.

I appreciated the narrator and his humor, though at times like many noirs, it can go a bit over the top. The characters were interesting and the action entertaining. The one negative reaction I had to the novel was the unnecessary repetitiveness of some of the narrator’s observations. He reminds the reader numerous times about certain character traits or thoughts as if to drive home a rationalization for particular actions or inactions. With each new time the reader is reminded it starts feeling more an excuse of forcing plot points to occur.

Many will be disappointed in this novel if they approach it expecting a fantasy – even if unfamiliar with Williams’ high-fantasy and going into this as pure urban fantasy. If you enjoy crime novels and don’t mind the concept of them existing in a made up world that bridges the Earthly and spiritual realms then I suspect you would like it, for its tone and soul are noir all the way.

Four Stars out of Five