Welcome back to Part 2 of our Discussion of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Part 1 is here.
I was mainly interested to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone for the same reasons you were:
Prague = total awesomeness (plus there aren’t that many YA books set out of the US, London, or Paris, so that’s a plus).
Smoke, bone, teeth, feathers = sinister in a way that convinced me I wouldn’t be reading another iteration of the “look, I’ve just discovered that [fill in unusual/preternatural quality or ability] I once thought made me an outsider and unlovable actually make me highly desirable in this new context” plot. Not that there aren’t really good, exciting examples of it—I just could tell this would be something different.
Monsters = always make a book better. Every single time.
And mostly I loved the book.
I am, in general, totally with you. I haven’t read Fallen (although I just put it on hold at the library because now I’m curious), but I did read Hush, Hush and Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick (the cover is sparkly and I was desperate). I was tricked into liking Hush, Hush because it was so dark into thinking the angel thing was ok. But then Crescendo cured me of that thinking because it was terrible.
But, BUT: I didn’t have a problem with the conceit of angels in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And I think the difference was how poorly developed the mythology of angelism was in Hush, Hush and (I imagine) Fallen—so that rather than just “persons who can fly,” or another kind of supernatural creature (like vampires or werewolves), the only thing about them is either an issue of goodness (they’re good and attractive, or, *shocker* they’re surprisingly not-good and attractive) or an issue of fallen-ness (where “fallen” could easily be simply a metaphor).
The only other angel experiences I have are:
1. Madeleine L’Engle’s Many Waters, where Meg’s twin brothers Sandy and Dennys accidentally transport themselves back to biblical times and meet up with Noah, an arc, and a bunch of seraphim and nephilim, which I enjoyed (but angels weren’t the main characters; also, having no bible-learning, I could never remember which were which).
2. A little show I like to call Supernatural (now available on Netflix instant!). Do you watch it? So, in season 3 all of a sudden the plot gets way cosmic and there are angels of the lord. When this plot arc began I rolled my eyes and was like, “uggh, get your religion out of my delightful genre-show.” However, I ended up totally digging it because angelic righteousness, the show makes clear, is the ultimate moral ambiguity. SPOILER ALERT: there is one episode in which Sam and Dean are tasked with trying to stop a witch from summoning a demon that would threaten the balance of power on earth. Worried that they are running out of time, two angels tell them to leave town because they’re going to smite it—several thousand people will die, yes, but it will (they assure us) be better in the larger scheme of things. Dean, righteous in his own mission to preserve humans at any cost, will have none of it. END SPOILERS. Anyway, Supernatural is delightful and that plot arc a really interesting treatment of angels, which could have gone horribly, horribly wrong.
For me, what set the angels in Daughter of Smoke and Bone apart was that a.) angels were another species of supernatural creature, as were the “monsters” and b.) there was, therefore, a lot of backstory about what it is to be the species of supernatural creature called “angel.”
The question of age is really interesting: are we too old for angels?
Maybe. I think that the idea of a romantic hero who is stunningly attractive, possesses a body honed by the fight to vanquish evil, and who has even a whiff of spiritual righteousness is enough to make anyone over the age of 25 feel resentful, inadequate, and suspicious (or is that just me?).
So, in that way my suspicion of an angel for a romantic hero fits your two strikes: “perceived nobility/idealisticness” and “too much goodlookingness.”
1. Perceived nobility (often of a religious nature). Yeah, I think a lack of moral ambiguity stinks up most angel stories. However, I didn’t think that about Daughter of Smoke and Bone—I, like you, thought that the perspective was balanced enough (given that Karou is on the side of the monsters and Akiva has to earn his place in the story) that Akiva didn’t feel too goody-goody-for-god. Of course, it remains to be seen in the rest of the series if Akiva is tokenized and the rest of the angels are, indeed, morally unambiguous.
2. Supergoodlookingness. Do you think this tendency is just a holdover from the mainstream romance genre that makes authors/readers want characters who are immensely good looking? I feel like the trend in many of the heterosexual supernatural romances published in the last few years has been to have the human female protagonist be average-looking, or have one great quality (beautiful eyes) but be otherwise unnotable, and have the supernatural male protagonist be supergoodlooking. This otherworldly beau, due to his supernaturalness, sees something in the soul of the human protag and loves her for her insides.
So, that’s wish-fulfillment of a type I’m sympathetic to (who wouldn’t rather avoid risking rejection and just hope that someone can see into their soul?) and is certainly better than requiring all female characters to be stunningly gorgeous, like in the movies.
Still, it seems to me that it undercuts the necessary message “you are more than your looks” by substituting a kind of ethical reward-system: if you have a good heart, are generous, etc., then someone (gorgeous) will notice that goodness and you don’t ever have to put yourself out there—just sit tight and wait for it. So, whatever ground was gained by the shift in the female protag’s superficial qualities is lost to passivity. But I digress. Because Karou is also supergoodlooking. If every young adult book that features a male angel could be made into a film and half of those angels could be played by Viggo Mortensen and the other half by Michael Wincott, I would go see every single one of them three times (are you listening, Hollywood? That’s, like . . . $2,000 just from me).
In other news, I had a totally different problem with ONE element of the book than you did (albeit for not dissimilar reasons). I agree that Karou-Akiva turned a little average-paranormal-romance for a few minutes, but I was fine with it mostly, because of the unique locations, the story of the monsters’ world, and Karou’s own social issues.
The snag for me was that I really don’t like origin myths in novels. SPOILER ALERT: For that reason, I was disinterested in the back story that builds Akiva and Madrigal’s love story. I know that when we learn of Karou’s relationship to that story it’s supposed to link in and make me care about it, but I didn’t much—I could have done without their entire love story. END SPOILERS. The thing about origin myths (and it’s borne out in Daughter of Smoke and Bone) is that they’re nearly always predicated on precisely the kind of unambiguous binary thinking that you object to in angels (good vs. evil). Since they generally grow out of one culture’s desire to understand itself in contrast with Others, there is always a naturalized good and bad. Or, even when they concern nature, it’s a nature of binaries (i.e., not nature): the moon vs. the sun; the sky vs. the sea, etc. Further, I find that most of the time when authors put origin stories in their novels those stories come (whether the author intends them to or not) to act as organizing metaphors for the novels. So, when Akiva and Madrigal swap their culture’s origin myths it’s quite difficult to avoid applying those same myths to the cultures themselves, which is overly simplistic and doesn’t construct storytelling as the complex tool we know it to be.
So, there you have it. Are we too old for angels? Probably so. We shall have to resign ourselves to the sad probability that if someone hyperbolically good-looking descended from the heavens and felt magnetically drawn to us then we would likely think they were a creep whose beauty meant they’d gotten everything in life easy. Ahem, unless Viggo Mortensen and Michael Wincott are reading this right now, in which case: I live in Philadelphia. Follow your magnetic attraction (apartment #2, side entrance).
Finally, did you see that Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been optioned for a film?
Meet us back here tomorrow for the conclusion of the discussion! Part III is here.
So, would you would want to be the object of an angel’s affection. Or maybe you already have been! If so, tell us in the comments and I’ll email you a special prize.