If you haven’t read the first book please do not read further as there are spoilers in this review.Feel free to read my review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone here if you are interested in starting this series!
Trigger Warning: Graphic scenes of violence and sexual assault
With the ending of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor flipped the entire script, and our MC Karou’s whole world: turns out, Karou was actually a chimaera soldier and Brimstone’s assistant named Madrigal in her past life, and she was sentenced to death for falling in love with Akiva and daring to dream of a world where chimaera and seraphim could live side by side in peace. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Akiva decided to avenge Madrigal (not aware that Brimstone had already planned to resurrect her) by destroying her ENTIRE RACE.
Man, Akiva. Overdramatic much?
On a more serious note though, this plot twist in the first book truly turned the tables for our characters and we can see the aftermath of it in the sequel Days of Blood and Starlight. While Daughter of Smoke and Bone was mostly a wonderfully written book that only suffered because of certain cringe-worthy descriptions (ahem…”she was creamy and leggy” and “she tastes like hinges and stardust and cream on the tip of a fox’s tongue”) and terribly cliche romance that I simply could not buy–Days of Blood and Starlight was, simply put, PERFECTION!
Here is a quick bullet review so you know why you MUST read this book if you are a fan of fantasy:
Themes of ethnic cleansing, genocide, colonialism, racism and the complex natures of justice, vengeance and redemption: I have to say, Laini Taylor explored these topics thoroughly, with sensitivity and skill that not many authors have.
Captivating and vivid world-building: I was impressed by Laini Taylor’s storytelling style in the first book, but in Days of Blood and Starlight her writing skills improve dramatically–perhaps even more so because the focus was less on romance and more on Eretz: the wars ravaging this beautiful world, the different landscapes and all the different people living in it, different races of chimaera and seraphim, the background of the war and how it was currently changing the social and political scenes in Eretz.
Incredible character arcs: while Akiva reforms and realizes his mistakes, Karou becomes the one who is traumatized and filled with hate and vengeance. It was heart-wrenching to see the change in both of these characters and it made me grow attached to them in a way I hadn’t in the first book: you cannot help but feel sympathy for all that they have gone through.
Great cast of supporting characters: Throughout the entire novel there is an inner conflict in every character, regardless of their role, regardless of their time on page: how far is too far in war? How do you hold on to morality and honor in days of war?
Take up a weapon and you become an instrument with as pure a purpose as the weapon itself: to find arteries and open them, limbs and sever them; to take what is alive and deliver it unto them. There was no other reason to hold a weapon, no other reason to be one…
…but how could a soldier change masters? How, with swords clenched in both hands, could one hope to keep blood from spilling?
Furthermore, the inclusion of these supportive characters and the way they have been written so they actually contribute to the story also gave a wider glimpse into what is really happening in the war between seraphim and chimaera, so that we are able to make judgements about both sides objectively and without bias. It also positions this novel as more than a story about star-crossed lovers: it is a story about two warring races, it is a story about systematic and structural oppression and the bloodshed that follows when you oppress an entire race, and also the bloodshed that follows when the oppressed tries to regain their freedom.
“You could look out the window today, see the sky raining fire, and say that it has all been for nothing, everything we’ve ever done, because now we’ve lost. But folk were born and lived and knew friendship and music in this city, ugly as it is, and all across this land that we fought for. Some grew old, and others were less lucky. Many bore children and raised them, and had the pleasure of making them, too, and we gave them that for as long as we could. Who has ever done more, my friend?”
Difficult topics were handled with extreme care and sensitivity: One of the things that I loved about this story is how Laini Taylor tackled scenes of attempted rape and sexual abuse and harassment (those that occur both on screen and off screen) with care and sensitivity. Note that sensitivity does not mean censorship. Sensitivity (in literature) means wording your sentences right so you can do justice to the topic being discussed or approached in the book, and you see that happening in this book. This is not a spoiler, but there was a scene in the latter half of the book where a female character is almost sexually assaulted, and Taylor did justice to the victim in this scene in portraying her trauma. Furthermore, unlike in many books, the assault was not portrayed as a tool to make the character stronger or give her purpose, nor was it used as a tool to shock and disgust the reader, but was rather a result of the dynamics of the enmity between the victim and the abuser.
To sum it all up, Days of Blood and Starlight is essentially a fantasy novel that draws inspiration from real, historical events and current social conflicts and issues to explore the senselessness of blind hate, ignorance and xenophobia.
And frankly…I think that’s what makes this book AWESOME!
What are the best ways to address difficult subjects such as rape culture and sexual violence in books in your opinion? Let me know in the comments below!