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Laini Taylor – Dreams of Gods & Monsters

July 15, 2014

55. Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor (2014)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, Book 3

Read my review of book:
1. Daughter of Smoke & Bone
2. Days of Blood & Starlight

Read By: Kristine Hvam
Length: 18h 07m (624 pages)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Started: 11 June 2014
Finished: 30 June 2014

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I loved the first two, and was anxious to see how it all ended!

In order to save
the world, angels and demons
must work together.

Summary: The Chimera and the Seraphim have been locked in endless war for longer than any of them can remember. But now they’re faced with a bigger problem – Jael has brought his angel army through a portal into the human world. In order to face this threat, Karou and Akiva must convince their opposing sides to work together, if they want to have a chance at realizing the dream that Akiva and Madrigal first envisioned more than a lifetime ago. But first they have to convince their people to put aside their deeply ingrained distrust and hatred – difficult to do with so many bodies, and so much bloodshed on each side. And even if they can accomplish that task, their dream may still falter, for there’s a greater danger looming that threatens not only the Chimera and the Seraphim, but their entire world… and all worlds. And tied into this, somehow, is Eliza Jones, a biology grad student with a troubled past that links her inexorably to the struggle between gods and monsters.

Review: I loved the first two books in this series – they were original, they were gorgeously written, they took a lot of disparate elements and crammed them together in a crazy way and made it work, and they were darker and more nuanced than most YA and more about war and morality and peace and what we must do in the name of those things than I was expecting, and they were awesome. This third book retains a lot of that – Taylor’s writing is still beautiful, and the ideas are still original, and the characterizations are still extremely well done – but there were a few things about this book that bothered me, and made it not really live up to the two that have come before.

The first is that the villains – not the major bad guys, Jael and the fallen angel Razgut, but some new minor villains – are pretty seriously one sidedly nasty. (Seriously, at some points I would not have been surprised if Morgan had been twirling his mustache as he cackled and stroked a white cat.) This isn’t a terminal flaw, but in a series where the first two books are all about shades of moral gray and how even basically good people sometimes have to do terrible things, and there’s not really anyone that’s purely bad – to have these shallow, one-dimensional bad guys show up was an unpleasantly jarring contrast.

My main problem with this book, however, is how many new elements it introduces, not only in the third book of the trilogy, but towards the end of the third book of the trilogy. And not little details, either, but entire major elements of worldbuilding and critical facts about characters that were barely if ever even hinted at in the first two books. Now, it had been almost a year and a half since I listened to Days of Blood and Starlight, so at first I was thinking I’d forgotten these things, which has been known to happen. But the more things went along, the more I realized that it wasn’t my faulty memory to blame for the fact that seemingly random elements that kept cropping up. And while Laini Taylor is certainly able to make magic out of seemingly random elements (Daughter of Smoke and Bone started with a blue-haired art student who collected teeth for her demon foster family in some in-between-worlds workshop, after all), this was a case of too much too late, leaving the whole thing feeling a little haphazard and unsatisfying.

(The exception to the “don’t introduce totally new and important elements without warning in your third book” is Eliza. Yes, it would have been better for the plotting of the overall trilogy if she’d been introduced earlier. But she’s also totally awesome whenever she is around, so I didn’t mind her being introduced so late in the game. And also: three cheers for biology grad students in fiction, especially believable ones who get their science right, no less!)

This problem of plotting was especially apparent in the ending. The first 80% of the book felt like it was moving steadily, if a little hurriedly, towards the resolution. But then as we get closer to the end of the book, more and more of these new elements start coming into play, so that the resolution we’ve been waiting for three whole books turns out not to really be a resolution at all, but the start of a bigger fight… but then we don’t get to see that fight, but are just told how it’s going to turn out. Not satisfying, to say the least.

I think what saved this book for me were the characters. Not Mik and Zusanna (who I do have to admit I found a LOT less annoying this time around). Not even Akiva and Karou so much, although they had some nice moments. But Eliza, Ziri, and Liraz stole the show. Eliza I’ve already mentioned; Ziri’s story was by far the most compelling to me this time around. Stuck in a body he hates, forced to pretend to be someone he’s not, and watching how that changes him, and how he fights not to let it change him, was fascinating and heart-rending and just plain compelling. Liraz’s character growth too was compelling, and her and her canteen almost broke my heart into a bunch of tiny pieces. Kristine Hvam’s narration was likely a big part of this; her voices are good, and she’s able to pack a lot of genuine emotion into each of her characters.

So, overall, despite this one not feeling as solid as the first two in the series, I have enough goodwill for Taylor’s world and her characters and her writing to carry me over the issues I had with some of her plotting decisions, and I did enjoy this one… I just wish the ending had been stronger. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Reading just the third book won’t make a lick of sense, but the series as a whole should appeal to anyone who likes original, slightly dark, and morally complex fantasy.

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First Line: Nerve thrum and screaming blood, wild and churning and chasing and devouring and terrible and terrible and terrible–

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2014 3:19 pm

    Eliza was a terrific character; I’m just sad we didn’t get more of her story arc. I loved how much she always just wanted to get back to doing science.

    • July 25, 2014 6:59 pm

      Jenny – I know! I’m always thrilled when scientist characters are done right, and I loved that, despite part of her mind going off into gibbering terror when faced with the monsters (which: yes), she’s still like “OK, let’s get some DNA samples and catalog everything and back up our data and figure this shit out rationally.”

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