Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first in a series by Laini Taylor, and it blew me away. I picked it up on a random wandering through the library and was hooked from the very beginning. This is Young Adult fantasy the way it was meant to be done.
Setting is great. We're in Prague! Not a common place to see, so it was fun to explore a bit with the characters. As the main character, Karou, goes on her travels, we get to see snippets of places all over the world, which was also great. The fantasy world is hidden away for a while but eventually we get there via a dimension door, and it doesn't disappoint.
Character is amazing. Karou handles bizarre balance of normal art school and secret dimension-hopping errand girl quite well. She goes through all the typical YA-coming-of-age stuff without making it boring or overdone (another kudos to Taylor for a job very well done). Karou's best friend Suzanna is probably my favorite of all. She takes a lot of crap and still comes out of it with her loyalty and snark intact. I love it. Akiva, when he's introduced, is fun to hate, but as you learn more of him, you realize that things aren't as simple as you thought. Could that be empathy? Hmm...
Plot. Not only is it a good one, but it feels like one of the best I've read. Not necessarily because it was twisty and full of surprises (although there were definitely some of those), but because it didn't feel contrived. Yes, Karou's in school, but the story isn't a look at how teens deal with school and the choices they have to make to survive in it. There's hints of insta-love, the more I read, it felt more like it was "not insta-hate" more than "insta-love." Relationships grew - sometimes better, sometimes worse - in a natural way and progressed the plot at their own pace, rather than the plot feeling like it was railroading the characters down paths that made no sense. And best of all, it feels like it could be a stand-alone novel even without being neatly tied up in a happily-ever-after ribbon. There are consequences for things, and we don't see the result of everything in this book. Relationships are left up in the air. The question of some people's life or death is left up in the air. And that's ok. There's a short epilogue, two pages or so, that leads to the next book, but I didn't feel that the epilogue was needed in order to make the story complete. It's just a teaser for things to come, which I think is how epilogues should be.
I'm going to the library today to pick up the second and third books in the series. Here's to hoping they don't disappoint - they're up against some pretty high standards now. Either way, I'll be buying Daughter of Smoke and Bone.