"What are we fighting for? What are we killing for? What do you see when you look into the future?"
Gone are the first book's spunkiness and lightheartedness, and(thankfully!) the annoying romance angle (even though the deceiving and useless cover of this book may wrongly lead you thinking otherwise).
Instead the darkness and dirt and tiredness and betrayals and pain and weariness and hopelessness and violence and vengeance and grim determination set in, and it is so much more realized and gripping and touching than I hoped - having lived up to the promise that the first book in the series was trying to set up.
Days of Blood and Starlight are filled with blood and not that much starlight, after all. This book does not shy away from pulling gut punches, sometimes in a dirty way. And I loved it.
"A dream dirty and bruised is better than no dream at all."
It's not often that a sequel is stronger than it predecessor, but it's the case here. Laini Taylor unflinchingly minimized the wonder and cuteness and romance and instead focused on creating a rich landscape devastated by war, and characters wounded and scarred by it, and yet caught in the relentless cycle of violence which breeds more of the same.
Karou is hardly recognizable as the spunky blue-haired girl full of vitality that we came to love. She lost everything she held dear and permanent in her life, and is barely a shell of her old self, consumed by regret and shame and guilt which, honestly, she really does not deserve (and the frequently annoying in its persistent cheerfullness presence of Zuzana is a painful reminder of how different Karou's life has become).
"In the cycle of slaughter, reprisal begat reprisal, forever."
She is a shell-shocked survivor, and she tries to navigate her way through this new world in a daze, relying on pain and wearing herself out. The fire seems to be gone out of her for a while as she resigns herself to being a necessary albeit unwanted and resented player in the game - a puppet to be tolerated until she can be replaced. She does what she thinks needs to be done - and there is nothing warm and fuzzy or comforting about it. I have a soft spot for reading about those scarred by painful experiences, and Karou wins my heart with her plight. And yet she is determined and strong, with more steel in her backbone than I can imagine - because who could have doubted that she will eventually find her way?
"Be your own place of safety, she told herself, straightening. No crossbar in the world could protect her from what lay ahead, and neither could a tiny knife ticked in her boot - though there her tiny knife would most certainly remain - and neither could a man, not even Akiva. She had to be her own strength, complete unto herself."
Karou - resourceful, strong, level-headed, self-sufficient - you are still welcome to join my literary BFFs circle. Really.
And on the other hand, we have Akiva - the hated (at least by me) romantic interest from the first book, who (and that's a tribute to Laini Taylor's skill, I must say!) unexpectedly has enough character development for me to come to understand him and even grudgingly respect him. Akiva genuinely is trying to set things right - and not only because of his love for Karou but also, it appears, because of realizing how little cruelty and vengeance are actually worth. He is allowed to develop on his own, and not just as a part of a standard cutesy couple that he almost became with Karou many moons ago.
The big theme of this book, the one that kept resonating with me, was the futility of violence and the longing for compassion and mercy and peace. The uselessness of adhering to the 'eye for an eye' approach to vengeance and violence is repeated over and over and over again. Because, as we have seen so many times in our real world, the natural compulsion is to answer violence with more of the same, to wreck vengeance, to make the other side feel your pain. Many seemingly 'righteous' wars, even recently, have been started on this idea, and the results of them have never been satisfying, have never been worth it; instead, only more suffering and pain was dealt to those caught in the middle of the fighting.
Breaking something is always easier than building something new - but it is rarely a sustainable solution to the problem. It seems so devastatingly simple - but yet so often overlooked, so often trampled in the search of more rewarding 'justice' - which causes more pain. The vicious cycle, isn't it? The futility of it is so obvious in literature, like this book, but why are we so blind to it in real life?
I can easily see this book not having such a following as the first book in the series did - because of the pronounced darkness of the tone and the decided lack of romance. The tensions are about the power, not about love. The conflict is not because of feelings but because of grim reality of war and power struggle. But this shift in tone and emphasis is what made me a fan of this book, and is what makes me really look forward to the next one in the series. Because sh*t is getting more real, believe me. And I want to learn more.
4.5 stars, without hesitation. I will even round up to five, given how much I enjoyed it. So there.
My review of the first book in the series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, is over here, by the way.