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Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2)

Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2) - Laini Taylor If there's one thing that makes my blood boil and my skin ripple with creepy crawlies, it's a story that disrespects real suffering. For me, this was one of those. Even though it started off really well, the second half majorly crashed and burned. Think there are two stories of suffering in this series: the teen-angst romance and the story of genocide and grief. This was such a huge fail for me in the way the grief story becomes an afterthought so the teen-angst romance can get back in the spotlight. This story is about how attraction to a hot guy molds a girl and changes her fibers, defines (in some undefinable way) who she is, and grief is something that, while uncomfortable, passes like a bruise. I think the opposite is true.

Murder and the Manic Pixie

I googled "genocide statistics," and these are the numbers the internet came up with for me:

Armenia: 1,000,000 killed from 1915-1923
China under Mao: 58,000,000 killed
USSR under Stalin: 20,000,000 killed (Robert Conquest, The Great Terror)
Holocaust: 5,700,000 killed from 1933-1945 (Nuremberg Trial)
Khmer Rouge (Cambodia): 1,600,000 killed between 1975-1978
Bosnia: 250,000 killed from 1992-1995 (U.S. State Dept.)
Rwanda: 1,000,000 killed in 1994
Somalia: 300,000 killed from 1991-present (IRIN, a UN agency)
Darfur: at least 450,000 killed from 2003-present (UN High Commission on Refugees)

It is kind of interesting that when we talk about war and genocide, we round the numbers so cleanly. We shove individuals off the statistics because one million makes a catchier number than 999,876. Or, maybe, we just estimate because it's not possible to even know how many people died. It is certainly not possible to estimate how many survivors have been broken by genocide, not to mention the lives broken by racism and sexism, the slightly more chill siblings of genocide.

Chris Hondros photograph of Samar Hassan, 5, screaming, covered in her parents' blood after they were shot in Iraq
Chris Hondros, Samar Hassan, 5, screams after her parents were killed in Tal Afar, Iraq

I understand why Stalin’s regime romanticized and justified genocide, and the same with Pol Pot, Hitler, and Mao. Propaganda is useful when you are clinging to maniacal power. And as Eddie Izzard says,
We think if someone kills someone, you go to prison, that’s murder. You kill ten people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick – that’s what they do. Twenty people, you go to a hospital, they look at you though a small window forever. And, over that, we can’t deal with it. Someone who’s killed a hundred thousand people . . . we’re almost going, ‘Well done! You killed a hundred thousand people? You must get up very early in the morning! I can’t even get down to the gym.’

About this book, though . . . we see a lot of genocide in the world . . . and it seems disrespectful to me to romanticize a genocidal warlord, whether it is for the purposes of propaganda or for the purposes of a YA fantasy novel. Pushing Akiva’s choices onto the Emperor, or whatever he was called, just doesn’t ring true to me. You kill the people you kill, even if someone else told you to. And I’m not saying that books for a younger audience can’t talk about genocide. The [b:Gregor the Overlander|262430|Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)|Suzanne Collins|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1173234171s/262430.jpg|524491] series blew me away when it went into genocide. Truly amazing. This book, though, was a whole book full of manic pixie dream girls dabbling in genocide and then gazing at each other.

Even the dudes in this book are manic pixie dream girls. And it’s like, you know: genocide just gets so monotonous and tiring after a while. Genocide ennui is so now. You kill and kill, and at first it’s fulfilling, but then you’re like, “this really isn’t getting me laid the way I thought it would, even though I got these eyes of fire and a dreamy widow’s peak and, like, shawls fulla moth-birds I picked up at Hot Topic.”

Then, you gaze across a crowded battlefield at this girl, and she’s all, “OMG, all I want is hugs! And I know you killed my whole family, but I’m pretty sure it was just because you loved me sooooo much!”

And then her wise, exotic nanny is all, “Honey chile, you just gotsa go get yo man! He only killin’ ev’yone you loved ‘cause he’sa grievin’ fo you. If you go back to him, maybe it will bring peace ta tha whole wide universe and tha moons’n stars.”

Really? . . . Really?! It kind of highlights how convenient the resurrection convention of this series is. It’s okay that he’s a mass-murdering fuckhead! We’ll just bring the people we cared about back to life, and no harm done!

Romeo and Juliet

Partway through this book, Karou somewhat heavy-handedly reminds us that [b:Daughter of Smoke and Bone|8490112|Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)|Laini Taylor|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1338613368s/8490112.jpg|13355552] was the story of [b:Romeo and Juliet|18135|Romeo and Juliet|William Shakespeare|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327872146s/18135.jpg|3349450] + genocide, which, duh. Thanks, Karou. I, um, read it.

Now, I love Romeo and Juliet. I love it a lot. When I was in college, my genius roommate used to convince guys hanging out at our house to perform the balcony scene with her as a comedy. The play makes this wonderful, sad-clown comedy. Juliet is a crazy person, wanting to pluck Romeo back to herself like a little bird on a string, bwuhaha. Romeo is a self-centered ass, in love with the idea of being in love and bragging about his girlfriends to his buddies. It is kind of hilarious, especially set to the backdrop of the plague breakout in Verona, which gives some perspective to the childish dramatics of our couple.

I have also seen one completely earnest, sad, beautiful production of Romeo and Juliet. The actors playing the couple were living together in real life, and they had this palpable spark between them that made the star-crossed fate truly tragic. The lighting was intimate, like the production in Slings and Arrows once it turns beautiful (here at 2:50) and the couple was still dumb and cursed, but I may have teared up a couple of times because they were beautiful and hopeful.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone caught elements of both comedic and tragic readings of Romeo and Juliet perfectly. The real tragedy in either reading is that the story of these lovers can only exist within this window of time. It can only exist with the suicide at the end. Like any romantic story, it only works if the sun sets at the appropriate time. Otherwise, you start to realize that he snores, and she chews too loud. He says all his sentences as a question; she can’t ever remember to put the cap back on her toothpaste.

Or, worse than snoring, as Taylor so beautifully showed in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, he has the capacity in him to commit genocide and kill every one you ever loved. It is beautiful because that changes the entire game; it changes the entire person he is. He is not the person dreaming of peace and respect for all creatures. He is the person killing them.

“Or is he?” Days of Blood and Starlight asks in its backwards bulldozing over the beauty of the first book. Maybe he was super provoked and it was okay that he killed and betrayed everyone because he was like, really, really sad. Awww. Poor little mass murdering fuckhead. He was so sad!

Romeo and Juliet in awkward metal clothing from Darren Nichols's ironic production in Slings and Arrows

Romance and Grief

So, the thing that bothers me in the fallout in this book is Karou. This story assumes Karou's devotion to this dude, into whose eyes she's gazed for like twelve seconds, would be a strong enough feeling to overcome her grief for her family.

It creeps me out when women in real life blindly stay with men who make them feel terrible. It says something to me about the degradation of the soul. I think that plenty of smart and interesting women do that, but it is at its base a creepy choice to me. But, then, nothing in this story built up to Karou for that type of creepy choice, so her actions and feelings for Akiva just made no sense to me. There was this idea that it could be noble to go back to someone who made you feel the worst you could possibly feel. It’s not romantic, but it’s also confusing.

It also makes no sense to me because romantic feelings (especially early, fiery romance) are like a delicate collectible unicorn figurine, and grief is like a jackhammer. Sometimes romantic feelings can’t survive someone’s table manners and overuse of the word “absolutely,” and it is beyond me to conceive of a situation, aside from being creepily insane sufferer of Stockholm syndrome, where romantic feelings could survive the murder of one’s whole family.

Other Miscellaneous Complaints

Am I wrong, or did all the hand-burning on the doors stuff happen when Karou was seventeen? But, I know Brimstone made her a baby because she has memories of her childhood, and it’s never indicated that they are false. So, like, this book is trying to tell me that Akiva was the nicest guy ever, and dreaming of peace, but then he did all of the hand-burning stuff in reaction to seeing Madrigal get killed? But, he just waited seventeen years to express his heat of passion genocide? That makes no sense.

Also, if the hamsas work after you cut off a hand – so they have some kind of magic of their own aside from the soul inside of the body – why didn’t they just burn hamsas into the outside of the walls of Loramendi? Further, how did the whole group of angel soldiers stand around holding the hamsa hands without also accidentally hitting each other with hamsa magic? Dumb.

And why be such an asshole to Ziri, book? Why be such an asshole to the ONLY actually badass character in this entire story? WHYYYY????

doodle man crying and holding his hands out imploringly

In Conclusion

Overall, I often don't agree with that advice to writers (I think from Faulkner) to "kill your darlings," and I feel like writers often misapply it because they have something to prove. But, in the first book, Taylor so boldly worse-than-killed Akiva by revealing him to be a mass murdering fuckhead. Trying to resurrect his character by romanticizing what he did felt cheap and disrespectful in this one. Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, like Akiva, all had motivations for their mass murdering, but they were not romantic motivations. It is not romantic to commit genocide or kill your girlfriend’s family. It is not romantic to make another person feel terrible. It’s not romantic to want to make out with a guy who killed your family. It just isn’t.
I got a copy of this book from a friend, and nobody paid me anything to rip it to shreds with the crescent blades of my keyboard.