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A grayscaled image of a girl in a vibrant blue feathered mask staring out at the reader

Karou is an art student with blue hair and a penchant for drawing monsters in her sketchbooks. She lives in Prague, and divides her time between school, her best friend Zuzuna, trying to avoid her lousy ex-boyfriend, and her adopted family — all of which are represented in her sketchbook: a gallery full of chimaera. They're fantastic and unbelieveable, part human and part beast, but very real. She doesn't know who she is, but she often wonders about her past and her future when so much of her life is running errands through doorways that lead all over the world to collect teeth for her adoptive family of chimaera, specifically Brimstone, the closest thing she has to a father. When she steps through the doorway to Marrakesh on a regular trip, everything she knows about herself, Brimstone, her family, and her life changes.

The middle of this book was like a doorway, in fact, and when I stepped through my first reaction was "WTAF?" followed by: I AM DISAPPOINT.

I really considered making that my entire summation of my feelings on this novel, then decided it would be a waste of a chance to make Ana gleeful if I didn't share my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thoughts regarding this story (you're welcome, Ana). This book was like a great date that's going well. Everything is flowing, conversation is good, there's a subtle attraction and maybe you're thinking of how low your condom supply is. Then something terrible happens and you end up going home alone because of bad touch or the realization that maybe you don't really want to date a self-proclaimed hoarder or [insert nightmare scenario here]. And also, it's raining. And maybe you left your cellphone at the bar accidentally and then your wallet gets stolen and it's just utter crap and you feel cheated and the entire universe sucks. Spoiler goggles equipped — let's proceed into the abyss of my sadness.

All the sections set in Prague are wonderful. Karou's friend Zuzuna is fantastic, and I really loved seeing their friendship hold throughout the novel even considering Karou's inability to share her whole life with Zuzana initially. The bond between Karou and Brimstone was beautiful and sad. I loved every scene where they interact, and oh, their last scene together was heartbreaking and so excellently written that it hurt. The mystery and drama of the entire book is dialed up to eleven at that point. I remember reading it during lunch at work and almost risking being late returning just so I could reread it and then take a moment to weep profusely in the breakroom.

Unfortunately, it all falls apart. Because soulmates.

I loved this book until Karou and Akiva started engaging in feelings. Once that started I got the sinking stomach that precedes a huge disappointment, and it was like I had ten stomachs. Karou-in-Prague, Karou-with-blue-hair, Karou-with-wishes, Karou-as-monster-agent, Karou-as-a-teenage-girl-on-adventures, Karou-as-the-monster's-daughter — I loved all of these things. The first half of this book was superb, tightly told and intriguing. It handled its mystery like a pro. There's a but, because I've already spoiled my reaction, and it involves Insta-Love with BONUS ANGELS (and the worst literary whiplash I've received in a long time).

Oh, Insta-Love. Logically, I know that this romance takes place over more than one night. But it's so difficult to get past the radical speed of the world-building in the second half of the novel versus the beautiful pacing in the first for me to accept this romance at all. A ball? Really? A character so lovely everyone wants her? Really? A mystical connection that saved a life so enemies could bone in secret? Really?

My brain knows, "Yes, these characters were together for X amount of time and parted in a horribly vicious way." but the response is "Don't care!"

Maybe I really only have one Insta-Love in me, and that position has been filled for many, many years with Sailor Moon's Usagi and Mamoru. My most favored Insta-Love was not perfect at all. Usagi starring up at Mamuro on a pink and purple field with white roses But even as an adult I find it seamlessly integrated into the story as a whole and regardless, Usagi already loved and trusted Mamoru for his current-day hijinks and protection — Serenity's feelings for Endymion were only an addition to things she already felt. It has its flaws, but it was still done in a way that didn't require the narrative transform into excessive backstory fun times in the form of an elaborate, multi-chapter flashback that asks you to flip gears into Dramatic Last Gasp Worldbuilding. It's seamlesS. Because we spend so little time in the world of the second half of the book, it's hard to get emotionally invested in anything. It was interesting: the war, the divide between the groups, the complicated ways in which both sides are fighting the war and trying to win. But wow, I would have preferred a different method for telling this part of the story because no amount of neat worldbuilding can make up for a lack of feelings: who are these people? Former selves (and strangers) of people I've met in a different context who have grown into completely different people, that's who. Measly wishbone, you were not a good enough plot device.

I also found the end infuriating at first, because all I saw was woman-on-woman backstabbing for the sake of jealousy over a dude and things that dude could provide: wealth, prestige, his cock, whatever. That was the backbone of the second half of the story when I first stopped to consider it. And I'm tired of it and tend not to think about it in any depth because, yeah, the meme is old. But I happened to pick it up right before I returned the book to the library and read over the last section again, and the second time there's a section that plays into the magic that the Chimaera possess: the magic to open portals, the magic they use to fight their war, the magic they use on their people. This magic is used in a specific way by one character for another out of kindness and it backfires later. Rereading this section changed my perspective, a bit on the nature of the betrayal. Ana and Jodie, you need to read this book with me and come discuss whether or not Laini Taylor snuck anti-discrimination subtext in her story.

This book is great if you ignore the romance completely. Just ignore it if you feel yourself get bored and push through the romance and the flashbacks. Read it for Karou and Brimstone and the rest of Karou's awesome Prague life. Read it for the inevitable descent into angel/demon hijinks with a twist that will give Karou the power she needs to kick some butt in the next book. I guess read it if you like this kind of romance/Insta-Love, or alternately, age differences. Not to kick dirt at age differences. Sometimes I can go for a good story where there's some age difference, especially if the characters are named Derek and Stiles. BUT GOD, NOT WITH ANGELS. I'm debating reading the second, because I have a burning need to know what Karou finds as she continues her journey with her past discovered and future ahead of her with that knowledge. Also, I need closure on my Brimstone feelings. So yeah, I'm in, but dubiously in.

Other (less dubious readings than mine, on the whole) reviews:
The Book Smugglers, Fantasy Cafe, Stella Matutina, Tempting Persephone, Janicu's Book Blog, Dear Author, Eve's Alexandria, Fantasy Review Barn, Bookworm Blues, yours?

Date: 2012-08-23 01:39 am (UTC)
chaila: by me (reading)
From: [personal profile] chaila
ALL OF THIS. I tweeted so, so excitedly and rapturously from the middle of the book, telling everyone I know to go and read it. And then I finished it and had to do this whole, HAHA JK it's bad YA romance tweet (which is not completely true, because I will read the next one just to see where it goes? Because it could be not horrible, depending on where the author chooses to focus the next parts of the journey?)

It was so sad, because I loved the first half so much, just all of it. The art, the wishes and their consequences, the mystery and the monster's daughter, the prose, the whole world, the FLYING like a badass. And then it was like a completely different book about completely different people, that apparently I'm supposed to care about only because they're in love and it was sad? Blargh. Anyway, your review called up all my sad feelings about this book, which could have so amazing, like shooting right to the top of my favorites list amazing, if it had continued like it started. And instead it was just...okay. :(

Date: 2012-08-24 01:01 am (UTC)
chaila: by me (books)
From: [personal profile] chaila
This otter is how I feel about Karou/Akiva reincarnated sexytimes:

I was glad that it ended in a way that seemed to prevent true love from winning everything. I would be really excited for subversion of the trope, and while the first half of the book could make me hopeful for this, the insta-love was just SO cliche and everything connected with the romance...well, the book seemed to think this was more interesting and unique than it was. Argh. Oh well, I shall remain hopeful nonetheless, because clearly this author can do awesome things I love.


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