“Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters?”
Karou is a Prague art student raised by chimaeras, but her past is a mystery to her and her human acquaintances. She regularly goes on teeth-collecting errands for her surrogate father Brimstone, but when she is confronted by Akiva the angel one day, her life is upended from there on out.
Genre: Young adult, Romance, Fantasy
My thoughts: Amazing! But then…
Rarely do I let great openings hype up my expectations for a book, but I was already drooling by the time I hit chapter three: from the vivid oddments of world-building to the wholly colorful cast, the author almost took me back to the days when I discovered Harry Potter for the first time, and that originality really excited me.
Because holy hell, the writing is wonderful. Smart, nimble, and beautifully easy to follow, there is a sense of dark, imminent danger lurking around each corner, and that had me geared up in excitement from the get-go. The disturbing yet whimsical tones to the premise lay down a great foundation for Karou’s romps to be fun and dynamic, and the mystery of her origins was juggled with great doses of humor and action.
Furthermore, Karou herself is one of the most compelling heroines I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in YA. She has quiet moments of introspection that give her just the right amount of depth, yet she still has a self-deprecating sense of humor that made her really cool to me: Karou isn’t above making mistakes, but she knows how to move beyond her flaws and make active choices for herself, and I really appreciated that.
In that, I was mesmerized by this book right out of the gate. There were little touches of wit and imagination to this book that you don’t see too often in YA nowadays, and that legitimately had me bouncing in excitement.
Unfortunately (or is it inevitably?), this book starts to drag in the latter half of this book once Karou meets Akiva, because helloooo insta-love. There are things revealed later on as to why this supposed insta-love occurs, but as a first-time reader, I was highly taken aback by the abrupt shift in pacing and tone. The author paints this romance as “fated” and “earth-shattering,” but considering Karou’s setup as a cool and autonomous protagonist, I was not expecting a Shakespearean love story to erupt at this point.
Similarly, the author hits readers one time too many with just how beautiful a couple these two characters make, and for a lowly mortal like me, it was rather irksome to read. Akiva and Karou’s constant goo-goo eyes at one another admittedly is justified by the end of this book, but the message is muddled considering how incessantly the author perpetuates Karou and Akiva’s physical attraction to one another.
After all, is this attraction mostly lust (as seems evidenced by these lovebirds’ excessive comments about how dead-drop gorgeous the other is), or I should take the author’s word for it that it’s not so shallow when she did very little in selling that to me?
Bottom line, it is not so much the romance that is the fatal misstep here, but rather the lack of tonal buffer to facilitate the dramatic shifts in pacing and tone. The transition from action to romance made the latter feel like it escalated out of nowhere, and that was ultimately what jarred me out of love with this book.
“Karou wished she could be the kind of girl who was complete unto herself, comfortable in solitude, serene. But she wasn’t. She was lonely, and she feared the missingness within her as if it might expand and cancel her.”
Recommended? Sure, with an asterisk.*
This book had terrific potential to be an action-filled adventure befitting of its smart and badass heroine, yet it loses its snap once the cheesy romance and draggy flashbacks kick in halfway through. However, the author works very hard to justify the insta-love romance, so I won’t bag this book too much for that; the intention to create a logical insta-love was there, so I’m perfectly at ease giving this book a pass this time around.
Therefore, I recommend for ages 13 and up! If you find some way to forgive the somewhat overbearing romance, you’ll likely enjoy the rest as the cast is lively, and the premise of teeth-collecting AWESOME. There are things to be enjoyed, so do give it a go.
Final thoughts: Melodramatic, but still good.
I think my gripes ultimately stem from the fact that I can’t reconcile those little nitpicks in my heart. My brain knows the romance made sense after reading the entire book, but my heart can’t help feeling like the execution of it was somehow slightly off.
But gripes aside, this book brought a joy to reading I haven’t felt in long time, so I give it 3.5 stars. This book stands notches above most YA reads with delightfully spicy characters, endearing relationships, and smart and lyrical prose, so I would recommend checking it out and making the call for yourself.
My rating: 3.5/5 frogs (4 stars critically, 3 stars personally.)
***By the way, is it just me or did anyone else low-key want Karou to end up with Kaz? Kaz is a shitty ex-boyfriend, but I think with a slow-burn redemption arc, he would’ve made for a much more compelling (and funny) love interest. I mean, think about it! The bickering-bantering dynamic would’ve made for a hilarious trash relationship.
***Also, I have yet to continue this series (I was super disappointed by the failure of this potential masterpiece to deliver the goods that I’m still in the process of recovering) but as it’s been more than a year, I shall get a move on that. Cheers, and till next time!