“Taste” by Kate Evangelista

 

Title: Taste
Author: Kate Evangelista
Read Date: 30 April 2012
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Reading Advice: Read this while munching on some pork cracklings! *insert evil The Count laughter here*
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At Barinkoff Academy, there’s only one rule: no students on campus after curfew. Phoenix McKay soon finds out why when she is left behind at sunset. A group calling themselves night students threaten to taste her flesh until she is saved by a mysterious, alluring boy. With his pale skin, dark eyes, and mesmerizing voice, Demitri is both irresistible and impenetrable. He warns her to stay away from his dangerous world of flesh eaters. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and playful Luka has other plans.

When Phoenix is caught between her physical and her emotional attraction, she becomes the keeper of a deadly secret that will rock the foundations of an ancient civilization living beneath Barinkoff Academy. Phoenix doesn’t realize until it is too late that the closer she gets to both Demitri and Luka the more she is plunging them all into a centuries old feud.

One of the things that I look for in romance stories, especially when they decide to go down Love Triangle Lane, is a certain amount of uncertainty about the story’s One True Pairing (OTP). It doesn’t matter if there seems to already be a fated OTP (see Korean drama “The Moon That Embraces The Sun”); what’s fun for me is watching the second lead be his awesome self enough for me to re-think which team I want to be on. I hate it when writers make the second lead despicable or strangely unattractive just to steer us towards the direction of the main hero. I want to be able to choose who to root for. Occasionally, I even want to be able to chastise the heroine and tell her “I told you so.”

I mention this because it’s one of the things I liked about Kate Evangelista’s new YA novel, “Taste.” The two heroes who are vying for Phoenix’s heart are equally attractive, yet any girl could likewise conceivably have doubts about them both. The OTP eventually becomes obvious as we go further into the story, of course, but the second lead remains a worthy choice.

Kate Evangelista created a vivid world and detailed mythology for “Taste” that seems both fresh and familiar. I’m sure that when readers start to talk about the primary conceit of the book—what the Night Students like Demitri and Luka turn out to be—there will be numerous invocations of certain popular YA titles and how those have also re-invented particular mythologies.

If I sound like I’m skirting this Creature Issue, I apologize. I don’t want to spoil that revelation for other readers because it’s fun to see all the guesses that are floating around in Goodreads, Twitter, and book blogs. Apparently, vampires are leading the survey. *chuckles* As for me, I’ll just say that I didn’t see it coming. I suspected in the beginning that maybe Ms. Evangelista invented a totally new supernatural creature, but apparently not. So yeah, it’s certainly a fascinating twist, although, to be honest, I’m not sure if everyone is going to drink this mythological Kool-Aid.

While I like Phoenix’s courage and inquisitiveness and Demitri’s intensity, it was Luka and the secondary characters like his sister Yana, and Demitri’s younger brother Dray, who captivated me. Their personal stories and their motivations make them easy to root for.

Overall, “Taste” is an entertaining read that will appeal to fans of paranormal YA romance. I look forward to seeing what other stories Ms. Evangelista has in store for us.

p.s. Filipino readers should keep their eyes peeled for a Pinoy reference in the story! (Oh, great. Now, I’m hungry.) 😉

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Disclosure: This review is based on an ARC provided by Kate Evangelista.

“Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor

 
Daughter of Smoke and Bone Final Cover
Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Read Date: 11 September 2011
Goodreads Status Updates: None. I couldn’t stop reading long enough to go online and post status updates, but my favorite quotes are here.
Review in a nutshell: A fantastic new perspective on popular YA paranormal themes, with memorable characters brought to life by Laini Taylor’s evocative writing.
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Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

 
This is my first Laini Taylor book, but I can already tell that she and I are going to have an enduring “I will buy every single book you write” kind of relationship.

Taylor turns the popular supernatural/Angel romance theme on its head in Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  In Taylor’s mythology, the Angels are not your usual supernatural beings from Heaven (although they still are winged, beautiful, and powerful); they’re flesh and blood creatures from another world, whose civilization is at war with “demons”–the Chimaera, creatures whose body parts are from several different animals.

The story delves deep into the long, violent history of these two races, but no matter who started the conflict, what stands out, for me, is how the line between good and evil blurs as both sides commit acts of war against each other.  Yes, we often associate Angels with the good side, but the Seraphim in this story are just as culpable as the Chimaera, and just as guilty of pride and prejudice.
 

It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.

 

The character at the center of this dark and grim backdrop is Karou, an art student in Prague whose only family are a group of Chimaera headed by a bull-headed “trader” named Brimstone.  She has no memory of her real parents or where she really came from; the only thing she knows is Brimstone raised her from infancy.

Karou exudes a certain otherworldliness–perhaps further amplified by the blue hair that grows out of her head that color–but remains grounded as a character because most readers will at least be able to sympathize with her loneliness and her quest to learn more about herself.  We may not experience everything that Karou does, but her emotions are easy to understand.
 

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. She craved a presence beside her, solid. Fingertips light at the nape of her neck and a voice meeting hers in the dark. Someone who would wait with an umbrella to walk her home in the rain, and smile like sunshine when he saw her coming. Who would dance with her on her balcony, keep his promises and know her secrets, and make a tiny world wherever he was, with just her and his arms and his whisper and her trust.

 

As if things weren’t complicated enough for Karou, she encounters Akiva, a Seraph who was sent to the human world on an important mission.  The Seraphim are capable of using glamour to hide their fiery wings, but you can still tell they are not of our world because their shadows show their true form and they are too “breath-stealingly beautiful” to be human.  

“Breath-stealingly beautiful”–Taylor’s words, not mine.  It was only when I read that that I realized just how important an author’s choice of words can be, because someone who can steal my breath away is vastly different from someone who can just take my breath away. Taylor’s prose is evocative and lyrical, and this is what makes the book something more than just a good story.

(Taylor’s description of Akiva evokes a non-traditional image of an angel in my mind.  No, wait, actually, he does not look angelic at all.  Truth be told, the image of Akiva that my mind conjures is the form that the devil will take if he wanted me to willingly follow him to hell. And so he joins Fitzwilliam Darcy in my list of Literary Boyfriends, which is probably TMI for you, but well, you did come here. 😛 )

It’s common in the genre that the supernatural character tends to be distant, aloof, and unreachable.  Case in point: Daniel Grigori in the first 2 books of Lauren Kate’s Fallen series, and even Edward Cullen, to a certain extent (and please don’t raise your eyebrows, okay?)  Well, they’re not human and the aloofness is expected, but I personally look for something in a character that I can connect with so that I can emotionally invest in the story and the romance aspect, in particular.  Taylor managed to provide that in how she wrote not only Akiva, but the Seraphim and Chimaera in general.

On hindsight, Taylor’s world and characters have less of the mystical supernatural flavor of Fallen; the book actually feels more like a Neil Gaiman urban fantasy.  And as with most good urban fantasy, the setting is a character in itself.  Here, Prague really comes alive, and I’m sure that if I’m lucky enough to visit it one day, I will recall Taylor’s words as I see it with my own eyes.
 

Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theatre with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.

 

Taylor takes great care in building her world and developing her characters, and despite there bring some slow sections, overall, she exerts good control over the pacing of the book. Her control even extends to the romance aspect, which was plausible and thrilling without being suffocating. The scale of the world and the overall arc is epic, but she maintains a feeling of intimacy between the reader and the characters and their personal stories.

[SPOILER WARNING: Don’t read this paragraph until you’ve read the book. I don’t spoil a plot point, but my reaction might give too much away.] There’s one scene, though, that disturbed me a little because I felt it almost bordered on bestiality. Okay, not exactly that; I think this is more about me thinking about the circumstances too much.  To Taylor’s credit, that scene was subtle and well-written, and it’s likely other readers won’t think twice about what happened. There’s just no getting around it because the Chimaera and the Seraphim are what they are, and the scene is needed to make a point. I immediately got over it, though. It’s not a deal-breaker at all for this book, it’s just a personal reaction that I felt I had to mention because I wanted to know how others reacted to that scene.  (If you read the book, please let me know in the Comments if this became an issue for you or not. :D) [END SPOILER]

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first in a new series by Taylor, who’s already written a handful of other works. She has a modest but dedicated following, but I think more people should read her books. So if you’re into paranormal romance or YA fantasy or if you’re a sucker for star-crossed lovers or maybe just looking for a different read, give this a try. Heck, even if you hate YA, you should give this a try! It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Here are the links to the lovely book trailers:
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Part 1: Main Trailer
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Part 2: Brimstone
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Part 3: Akiva (The illustrations of Akiva are… ♥♥♥)


This review, including the quotes featured therein, is based on an Advance Reader Copy provided by Hachette Book Group USA (Phils.)
U.S. Street Date: 27 September 2011

Other Reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Chris of Ficsation