Warning: This is the second book in Laini Taylor's fantasy series, "Daughter of Smoke and Bone". Both the synopsis and the review contain spoilers for both books. Tread with caution...

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

"Days of Blood and Starlight" brings us a proverbial new chapter in the age-old war between the Seraphim and the Chimaera races. In the tranquil streets of Prague, life has taken a turn for the unusual following the Angel sightings on Charles Bridge, which many have taken to be an early sign of an upcoming apocalypse. In Morocco, a French explorer blogs about some really large birds they have, manifesting themselves as majestic winged shapes across the night sky. A small-time actor and part-time vampire Kazimir has taken to giving interviews to any news station that would have him, relishing his fifteen minutes of fame. Meanwhile, a marionette and her violinist are seeking to solve the riddle left behind by Karou.

"I am a priestess of a sandcastle in a land of dust and starlight."

In the second installment of Laini Taylor's fantasy series, former advocates for peace Karou and Akiva find themselves on separate sides of the brutal, otherworldly war.

Seeking to avenge the slaying of her family, Karou continues in Brimstone's footsteps and assumes the role of the new resurrectionist to a handful of Chimaera still left standing. In the land of dust and starlight, she must unite forces with the same man who once beheaded her in an effort to save her entire race from extinction. As Karou struggles to come to terms with trading in currency that is her own pain for the resurrection of her former allies, she is reminded that some of her crimes might just be too great to be forgotten, and that not everyone is prepared to welcome her back with open arms. Alone and secluded, she must weigh her desire for revenge against Thiago's own questionable motives. It appears that the Chimaera soldiers she brings to life have a purpose of a different kind... and not the kind she approves of.

In the Elsewhere, grief-stricken and remorseful, Akiva scours Eretz in search for any sign of Karou. With her family's blood on his hands, and her race brought to extinction by his betrayal of her secret, he must come to terms with the fact that the dream of peace they once shared is no more than a distant memory. And when in an abandoned Kirin cave Akiva comes across a thurible with Karou's name, it appears that he has been impaled by his own sword: the soul of the one he loves trapped, and no resurrectionist left to unite it with a body. Left to his despair, Akiva returns to his brother and sister and hatches a dangerous plan to bring about the end to the war and stop their father's violence while there is still time for both sides.

The second book really brings about some of the less glamorous realities of war, even if it is an otherworldly kind. Even in the oblivious human world, the ripples of fear and panic are beginning to take root. Zuzana and Mik take off in search of their lost friend. The Seraph-Chimaera conflict seems to be spanning in magnitude across both worlds and the book takes on a grittier, darker tone.

I immensely enjoyed Karou's development throughout the course of this book. From the girl on a mission, intent on nothing but revenge, Karou assumes a burden she knows her adoptive father had never intended for her to bear. And slowly, as Thiago's true nature begins to emerge and his plans start to unravel, Karou becomes aware of a greater purpose. She is reminded of a dream of peace she once shared with Akiva, and forced to concede that there are no winning sides in a war, nor can any violence be justified by a previous violence. She goes from a girl blinded by grief and rage to a woman acutely aware of the realities of war and the never-ending senseless loss of innocent lives. And even when she is isolated, carefully monitored, mistrusted and endangered in the lair of Monsters, she finds a way to keep perspective, to never take promises at face value and to question every step Thiago takes. The events towards the end of the book just about gave me a heart attack, and to have Karou emerge from it all with renewed purpose (and even with a few allies at long last) brought me endless satisfaction.

Akiva, too, learns from his first mistake and doesn't allow Karou's supposed death to blind him to the disastrous consequences of his father's reign of terror. This time, rather than to isolate himself from his brother and sister, he adopts a policy of no secrets, and teaches compassion through example. He comes into his own, his mother's side fuels both his resistance and his magic, and together with the handful of people he has left in the world, he dares once again to hope for a better tomorrow and a new era of peace.

Zuzana, as always, had the best lines. Her unwavering loyalty to Karou, and the sense of normalcy she brings even to the most surreal of the situations will forever make her one of my favorite and most memorable sidekicks. With no horns, wings or tails to speak of, Zuzana makes a transformation from a part-time puppet to a full-time resurrectionist's apprentice. She befriends a horde of angry monsters and begins to learn their language and customs. She hikes across the deserts of Morocco to ensure the safety of her friend. And together with Mik, she becomes a rock to a crumbling Karou when she needs it the most. Their contrasting regularness in a world of irregularness made them the breath of fresh air I needed to get through the book without a heart attack.

And again I found myself marveling that the book had only 500 pages, considering how very much takes place, how many times the tides are turned, and how many allegiances take root and then die as the war rages on. Laini Taylor has a way of making things happen, ceaselessly, while at the same time making room for character development and struggles of a more internal sort. I am in absolute awe.

The writing style itself is every bit as beautiful as in the previous book. And just as in the previous one, it is one of its essential components. It's the writing that puts this series over the top for me, and the writing that makes the world as beautiful as it is deadly. The choice of words contrasts the choice of actions some characters make, and Laini makes even the darkest moments indelible in their elegance.

I can't even express how thankful I am to have only picked up the series now that it's completed. I can't imagine the agony that must have been the wait for the final book before it was released. The horror...!

Guess what I'll be reading next!

RATING: *****

- Lexie