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A very promising beginning turned into a bad fanfiction
am 29. September 2012
Disclaimer: This review is based solely on my personal opinion and limited knowledge. As a human being, I am far from perfect, so please feel free to make comments and suggestions. I tried to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but certain plot details can't be avoided in a detailed book discussion. But don't worry, I'm not giving away the ending.
The story begins in Prague, where we are introduced to Karou, a 17-year-old art student and part-time hunter. She doesn't hunt for animals or treasures, however. She hunts for teeth. More precisely, the teeth of all living things that dwell on this earth. This includes dealing with criminals, grave robbers and poachers, much to her dismay. Karou delivers the teeth to Brimstone, a Chimaera living in a shop inbetween our world and an unknown supernatural world. Brimstone and his employees like Issa, the snake-lady and Kishmish, the bat-raven, are the only family Karou has ever known.
Brimstone's shop can be accessed through secret doors in all major cities of the world. Normal people would just see a regular room behind these doors, but when Karou knocks on them, Issa opens the door from within and leads her to Brimstone's shop. All teeth Karou delivers are strung on necklaces and stored in countless jars. Her reward isn't money, but wishes, sometimes smaller, sometimes stronger ones. But no matter how often she asks Brimstone about his work, he simply refuses to tell her what the teeth are for and how he gets all these wishes. Karou doesn't even know where she comes from, who her real parents are and why she has grown up in Brimstone's shop. But in the course of the story, she finds bits and pieces of information that help her solve the mystery of her existence.
Until this point, I really liked the innovative plot and setting, as well as Laini Taylor's creative vocabulary and fluent writing style. In brief, I was hooked and expecting a great adventure. However, as soon as an irresistible male lead was introduced, everything went downhill. I felt like I was reading an original work written by a passionate Twilight fan. Although, to be fair, the reincarnation theme of "The Vampire Diaries" was also included. We even have an equivalent to "So the lion fell in love with a lamb.", which is "Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well." This quote, unfortunately, is placed at the very beginning of the book and basically gives away the whole plot. Don't expect any surprises and prepare to get annoyed, because you will have figured out the backstory about 200 pages before it is finally revealed to the protagonist.
The protagonist Karou ("hope" in Chimaera) is portrayed as a strong and independent young woman in the beginning. But unfortunately, this positive image is quickly replaced by descriptions of her exceptional beauty, likability and talents, thanks to which she attracts friends and admirers wherever she goes. But as soon as she falls in love with the male lead, she turns into a sad caricature of a damsel in distress, no matter how much she stresses she doesn't want to be. Ah well, at least she didn't lose her virginity to a real vampire. She lost it to a fake one.
Akiva, Karou's love interest, is first portrayed as a cold, emotionless Seraphim soldier who tries to kill Karou. But he suddenly realizes that there is something special and familiar about her. His character quickly changes to that of a love-struck Edward, who resists the temptation to spill the female protagonist's blood. However, he can't resist "the pull", just like Karou, who can't keep herself from touching this beautiful being. And the author wants us to know that he's beautiful, because she devotes as many pages to the description of his angelic features as Stephenie Meyer devotes to the comparison of Edward and a Roman statue.
Brimstone, Issa, Kishmish and the other members of Karou's Chimaera family were the only characters that I actually liked, although they played a comparatively small role. Later in the book, the short flashback scenes with these characters were the only thing that kept me reading. I don't think it's a good sign when a female reader can identify more with a group of monsters than with the female lead. (No, I am not referring to my mental state.)
THE CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
What disappointed me even more than the actual plot were the cultural and geographical references. People who have actually spent some time in Prague, Marrakesh or Paris will notice that Laini Taylor's beautiful descriptions are nothing but the typical clichés found in tourist guides and far from reality. I'm sorry to use such harsh words, but people like Laini Taylor are the reason why the stereotype about self-centered, close-minded and uneducated Americans even exists. Not just because she didn't research the locations of her novel properly, but because she is clearly misinformed about other cultures and relies on stereotypes and prejudices instead. A few examples:
- Karou was trained in martial arts in Hongkong. By a SENSEI. I'm not sure if Laini Taylor just thinks that all people in East Asia speak the same language or if she actually believes that Hongkong is part of Japan.
- The name of the supernatural world is "Eretz", which according to the author means "earth" (in the sense of "world") in Hebrew. She probably used one of those crappy online dictionaries for that. Unfortunately, this term has a much deeper meaning and is used in a different context in (Biblical) Hebrew.
- The language of the Chimaera is described as guttural, with lots of fricatives (e.g. s, f, th, etc.). But Laini Taylor feels the need to add that even German and Hebrew sound melodious in comparison. Apparently, the author didn't bother to count the fricatives in English, German and Hebrew, or she would have come to another conclusion. But apart from that, it is simply outrageous to make such a statement about other languages, because melody (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. How other languages sound to you depends on your mother tongue and the amount of time you were exposed to foreign languages. Karou's native language is Chimaera, plus about 20 other languages she acquired by magic. Which means that she would never judge German or Hebrew as not melodious. This is clearly the author speaking here.
- The author constantly mentions the war crimes committed by the Nazis in Prague during WW II. And her poor heroine is annoyed by "a horde of German tourists" with "sensible shoes". In combination with her pejorative statement about the German language I can't help but wonder if Laini Taylor has issues with German(s) in general. I have to admit that it's certainly valid to compare the events in Eretz to WW I+II and the crimes committed by the Nazis are among the most atrocious in human history. But it is the only comparison the author draws and she even goes as far as stating that the invaders are always the bad guys. Funnily, she never mentions certain events in recent American history...
I can't recommend this book to anyone who expects an original plot based on proper research. This book is clearly aimed at young girls who can identify with the female protagonist and dream of an angel/vampire/knight in shining armor who comes to rescue them from the harsh reality of highschool and puberty. So if you enjoyed this book, that's perfectly fine, because everyone needs an escape from reality sometimes. But don't forget to put your books away occasionally, because they can't replace real friends and real love. Unfortunately, you will have to work for those.