Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor is the second book in the trilogy begun with Daughter of Smoke & Bone. This series is difficult to categorize more specifically than falling within the fantasy genre. The first book seems mostly like a contemporary fantasy/paranormal romance blend, and the next book is mainly set both in Morocco here on Earth and in Eretz but does not have a large romantic component, focusing on war instead. These two books can be found shelved in the young adult section in the US, but this is the only country that does not market these books as adult.
It’s impossible to discuss Days of Blood & Starlight without spoiling events from Daughter of Smoke & Bone (my review). I definitely wouldn’t recommend reading about that before reading the book so if you haven’t read the first one, do not read on unless you love spoilers!
Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living—one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and the dying.
Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel box without a jewel—a paradise waiting for them to fill it with their happiness.
This was not that world.
The above quote is the one that I believe best captures the essence of this book since it’s about the aftermath of that dream for a better world being dashed and a war that rages on. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Karou fell in love with the angel Akiva and only later remembered her past life in a different body, when she was not a human girl at all but one of the chimaera, Madrigal. The chimaera and seraphim were at war with each other, but Madrigal and Akiva fell in love anyway and hoped for a better world where their people could be at peace—until Madrigal’s people found out about her relationship with an angel and had her beheaded. Akiva went back to those he’d grown up with and continued to fight in the war, not knowing that the resurrectionist Brimstone had saved Madrigal’s soul and brought her back to life as Karou. Yet Karou and Akiva were torn apart again when Akiva confessed to her that he did something he never would have done had he known that Brimstone brought her back: killed Brimstone and the others, ending the chimaeras’ ability to resurrect and eliminating those Karou held dear.
Days of Blood & Starlight continues after this revelation and the separation of Karou and Akiva. Both Karou’s best friend Zuzana and Akiva worry that she may be dead, and Akiva is devastated when he finds a thurible with Karou’s name on it in one of the locations he checks. Since he killed the chimaera’s resurrectionist, he has no hope of the soul within the thurible ever being revived. Heartbroken, Akiva goes back to his two closest friends and the war. However, unlike last time he thought Karou was dead, he isn’t filled with hatred for the chimaera but has renewed hope for the dream of peace they once shared.
Meanwhile, Karou has taken Brimstone’s place as resurrectionist for the chimaera, using the knowledge she had when she was Brimstone’s apprentice Madrigal to build better, stronger bodies. With a replacement for their former resurrectionist, the chimaera have renewed hope as well—not for peace, but for increased fighting prowess with their new bodies designed specially for war.
Technically, I think Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the better book of the two since Days of Blood & Starlight had a bit of a rough start. It wasn’t difficult to read out of terrible dullness, but it did wander around somewhat, and it included a couple of perspectives that did not seem necessary to the story. Despite these flaws, it was a riveting book nearly as wonderful as the first, especially once it got past some of these beginning issues and focused more on Karou and Akiva’s individual stories. Like the first book, it is beautifully written and imaginative, and I loved the darker tone of this story and the exploration of war.
Days of Blood & Starlight does not shy away from the harsh realities of war, nor does it simplify it by delineating between a side that contains the righteous and another containing the dregs of society. Many of the seraphim, especially those in power, are despicable people; likewise, the chimaera have their own horrors, such as the ruthless Thiago. Yet not all on either side seem like horrible people. While those on both sides have committed horrific acts, I got the impression that many of the characters on both sides were decent people who knew nothing other than war.
I applaud Laini Taylor’s ability to create characters I can find sympathetic despite their actions. After Akiva’s involvement with the genocide of the chimaera, it could be very difficult to find him a character one can relate to at all. Karou finds this act unforgivable, and in her place outside of a fictional story, I’m sure I would as well. For that reason, I find it a bit hard to admit that I actually found him a compelling character in this book because of the hard choices he faced, the situation he’s in, and how he seems to have had a change of heart.
While I find it difficult to comprehend his actions, I do think they make sense given his upbringing. Akiva and his close-knit group of seraphim were specially trained warriors and that seemed to be their sole reason for existing. He had been raised to kill chimaera, and once the chimaera killed the one he loved, where else did he have to go? He had other people who cared about him to return to, and he also had a reason to hate the chimaera and believe them to be monsters just like he’d been taught for his entire life if they could kill one of their own simply for falling in love. In context, I think his actions—giving up on his dream for peace, returning to those who cared about him, and joining the only existence he’d ever known with a renewed vengeance for those who killed Madrigal—make sense, as tragic as his involvement in the deaths of Brimstone and the other chimaera we came to love as Karou’s friends was.
The part that really made Akiva interesting to me is that he does prove capable of not just saying he’s remorseful but actually changing, which seems like it would be incredibly difficult after being raised to wage war against the chimaera and then having his heart ripped out by them himself. With Madrigal gone, he must have felt very alone in the world, and meeting Karou and learning the truth about Brimstone seems to have shown him the error of his ways. More importantly, this time he tries to make some changes for the better even when he thinks Karou is dead, which I think says it’s much more than a romantic dream compelling him this time. It doesn’t change the tragic consequences of the past and those who paid for it (and are still paying for it, like Karou), but I think turning away from what one has been taught and all one has ever known like that says something positive about his strength of character and resolve.
Karou, on the other hand, seems to be following the path away from their peaceful dream as she has joined forces with Thiago, the one who betrayed her and had her beheaded, to create better killers for their side of the war. While she’s not killing angels firsthand, she does know Thiago’s nature as a brutal chimaera who seems to have no heart, soul, or moral quandaries whatsoever and that her work is aiding him. She willfully tries to ignore the consequences of her own actions when she begins working as his resurrectionist and attempts to remain in the dark about specific details regarding Thiago’s plans. In a way, she’s reacting the same way Akiva did initially by giving up on peace and dedicating herself to furthering the killing of the other side. Despite her willful ignorance about the results of her work, I don’t remain unsympathetic toward her situation since she is following in Brimstone’s footsteps and is also helping her own people—a people whose numbers are severely diminished due to Akiva and some of the other seraphim.
One of the things I love so much about this book is that I don’t know what to think or what should happen with Karou and Akiva. How could Karou EVER forgive Akiva for what he did? Yet if he truly has a different outlook now and ends up doing a lot of good for her people, how can she not forgive him? Could Karou honestly say she would never have done the same thing in his place if she put herself in his shoes? But HOW could she ever not look at him and think of what he did?
The last 100 pages or so were pretty intense, but for all its bleakness, I also felt there was a thread of hope. That’s not to say this is what I’d call a cheerful book. As may be expected from a book with so much focus on wartime, this book is full of tragedy and heart-wrenching scenes. I would also like to warn potential readers that there is an attempted rape scene in addition to the war-related violence.
Days of Blood & Starlight is a wonderful (even if rather emotionally harrowing) continuation of the story begun in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It does suffer a bit from some meandering viewpoints and a beginning that could have been more tightly plotted, but it is an imaginative, unique book containing some beautiful writing. It doesn’t hold back from showing the horrors of war, but it’s also stronger for showing the complexity of the situation and depicting some of those on both sides as three-dimensional people muddling their way through a war and hatred that pre-dates their existence. Highly recommended to those who have read the first book and like their fiction creative and dark with multifaceted characters.
My Rating: 9/10
Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.
Other Reviews of Days of Blood & Starlight: