Study Guide

Daughter of Smoke & Bone Analysis

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Whose Child is This?

    It's a catchy title, isn't it? All smoky and mysterious, and the "bone" bit gives it a sinister air. But what does it mean? And who, exactly, is this daughter of smoke and bone?

    Well, that second question is easier than the first. The daughter is either Madrigal or Karou, or Madrigal-as-Karou, since they're basically the same person. She's a daughter of smoke and bone because she's been resurrected—using smoke and bone.

    The meaning of the title is a little more complicated. To figure that out, we turn to the appearance of the title phrase in the book's text. It crops up in the second-to-last chapter, as Madrigal awaits execution in her cell.

    Here, Brimstone drops hints as to his plan for her resurrection and "[Madrigal] didn't understand, quite, but something was starting to take shape, out of magic and will. Smoke and bone" (59.95).

    As we talked about in our analysis of "Hope and Wishes", we think that magic and will are two different forces. One comes from outside of you, and the other, from inside of you. So, when people use magic or make wishes, they're doing something that's hazy and unpredictable—like smoke.

    But when you have the courage and the will to hope for a better future, you support yourself with something strong that comes from the inside—like bone. Perhaps we really do need both smoke and bone to survive.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Tune in Next Time...

    In a way, the whole last third of the book is an ending—it marks the end of Karou's journey of self-discovery. Because she discovers that her "self" is an entirely different person, Madrigal. And that mean's she's not actually "of this world"; she's not human but a reincarnated chimaera, from an entirely different universe.

    Wow. That was a pretty satisfying ending, huh?

    But then there's the actual final page of the novel, which is in the brief Epilogue. After finding out that Akiva killed Brimstone (gasp), Karou decides to leave him. She flies away with Razgut (double gasp) through the portal in the sky, to the Elsewhere.

    In the previous chapter, Karou realizes that "peace wasn't the only way to end a war" (60.44). What other ways are there? Ice cream socials? More war? What exactly is Karou up to in the Elsewhere?

    And, most importantly: is she going to stay mad at Akiva forever? We'll have to read the sequel in order to find out.

  • Setting


    The Magic Kingdom

    The book's epigraph begins, "once upon a time," which conjures up images of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and other dark, twisted fairy tales. (Those Grimm brothers were grim, y'all.) And what's one thing that many of these stories have in common? They take place in some magical city from another time, filled with cobblestones and cathedrals, street performers and fairies.

    In this book, that magical setting is the capital of the Czech Republic: Prague. Akiva even describes the metropolis as a "fairy-tale city" (23.1)… and this, from the guy who is basically from another dimension. Prague definitely has an other-worldly quality in Smoke and Bone, especially to us readers who are used to typical book settings, like New York, London, or Forks.

    Boring. We want romance and enchantment, cathedrals and cobblestones. In other words, we want Prague.

    Still Just Rats in a Cage

    In addition to Prague, we spend a bit of time in Loramendi, the capital of the chimaera-verse. When we see it through Madrigal's eyes, there's not much description. Guess she's used to it, given that she lives there and all. But when Karou sees Loramendi, she describes it in all its weird, wonderful detail.

    The thing that sticks out most to us is that "the city was banded over by iron bars" (17.8). This raises the question that we always have to ask when seeing a giant cage (which happens all the time): is it for keeping people in, or out?

    The people of Loramendi are prisoners of a war-time culture. They're in constant battle with the seraphim, and it's likely that the bars are there for protection against these flying enemies. But they also serve as a sad reminder of the chimaera's general lack of freedom.

  • What's Up With the Epigraph?

    Once upon a time, an angel and a devil feel in love. It did not end well.

    The epigraph for Daughter of Smoke and Bone is original, not from another source, as most epigraphs are. There are a few of these little "epigraphs" sprinkled throughout the novel, usually when a new plot arc begins or the narrative P.O.V. shifts to another character.

    Each one begins with "once upon a time," which adds to the general fairy-tale quality of the novel. Plus, they provide you with little hints as to what's going to happen—so they're really a foreshadowing device.

    Unlike most fairy tales, though, you'll notice that this story doesn't end with a happily ever after. Do you think Karou's story ever will have that perfect ending?

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    No need to wish for a larger vocabulary here, Shmoopers. Reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a leisurely affair. Like any good fairy tale, it lures you in with simple, yet poetic, language. It may be a long read, but it feels more like a vacation in Europe than a dentist's appointment

    Sure, some of the names are a little difficult to pronounce—there are enough Zs and Ks on display to set a world record high score in Words with Friends. But don't worry about that. It wasn't until Harry Potter hit the big screen that we learned how to pronounce "Hermione."

  • The Wishbone

    Just a Little Snap

    A wishbone hasn't been this complicated since that Thanksgiving where crazy Aunt Ida and blind uncle Karl fought over it and someone lost their false teeth in a pile of jellied cranberry sauce. Not a Thanksgiving tradition, exactly. Anyway, the wishbone in Daughter of Smoke and Bone symbolizes a lot.

    But it doesn't seem to have a thing to do with wishes. Imagine that.

    So just what does the wishbone stand for? Madrigal and Akiva used to break one every night after a little sexy time, as they hoped for a world in which their love wasn't forbidden. Akiva and Karou, a.k.a. Madrigal Incarnate, break a wishbone too in order to get Karou her memories, and her true identity back.

    So the wishbone symbolizes hope, identity, and love. Great. Case closed.


    Not so fast, Shmoopers. Take a closer look at what these couples are doing before snapping the wishbone. Not too close, we wanna keep this PG-13. But yes: they're getting busy.

    Now, add in the fact that Brimstone, who counsels Karou on saving herself until she finds her soulmate, is also the one who keeps the wishbone around his neck for most of the novel. And there you have it: maybe, just maybe, this fragile, y-shaped bone is a big old symbol for virginity… and the feeling that you're going to be a totally different person after you lose it.

    Karou refers to her own virginity as "the irretrievable" (3.25)—much in the same way that, once she finds out her true identity, she can never go back to being plain old "human" Karou again.
    When Karou examines Brimstone's wishbone for the first time, she says, "Its frail wings fit between her fingers as if it were meant to be held" (22.4).

    And not just held, but held carefully—protected. Kind of like your virginity, in many people's opinions. But before they break the wishbone, Karou and Akiva have a talk about it.

    Is this something they really want to do? There's a moment of passion, some heated touching, then hesitation, more conversation. When Karou gave her virginity to Kazimir, she didn't give it much thought.

    And other than make her angry at him, their sex didn't really change Karou. Her views on love and sex have changed since meeting Akiva, though. So when she considers doing it with Akiva (breaking the wishbone, we mean, of course), she believes it'll be a monumental occasion.

    Maybe the moral of the story is: losing your virginity, or "making love" at all, to the person you're meant to be with is a really big deal. A much bigger, and much different deal, than sleeping with someone you don't care about.

    How does being with Akiva change Karou… forever?

  • Tattoos

    Invisible Ink

    One of the first things we learn about Karou is that she has "bright blue hair [and] a constellation of tattoos" on her body. Ooh, pretty. Then we never hear of those tattoos again. Maybe because of their impermanence—Karou can just wish them away, unlike the rest of us—they have less meaning…?

    Not all of her tattoos can be wished away, however. She's got permanent ones on her palms: the eye-shaped hamsas. And those are critical plot points. Whenever Karou is near Akiva she feels "the pulse in her palms that [...] emanated from her tattoos" (14.48).

    This pulse could really mean all sorts of things. Lustful feelings are the first thought we had. But when we learn what the hamsas mean—they belong to chimaera who have been resurrected—they take on a whole new significance. They're protection against the seraphim.

    But why would Brimstone give Karou hamsas when he knows that Akiva, a seraphim, is her one true love? That's exactly the kind of question we think you should be asking, Shmoopers.

    So, to recap: tattoos are protection in this novel. But they also seem to imply foreboding, because why would one need extra defenses against one's lover's kindred? Stay tuned for the sequel, and all of your burning questions just might be answered.

  • Wings and Shadows

    Crash and Burn

    Wings conjure up feelings of freedom—you know, like, soaring through the sky without a care in the whole world. The wings in Daughter of Smoke and Bone? They're more like Icarus's big flight; first, there's a big flight, then there's a big fall.

    Crash and burn, baby. Emphasis on the burn.

    Some of the first wings we see are Karou's fake wings, which are made from real feathers. "She understood that birds had been killed for them, whole species driven extinct" (5.21). She calls them Angel of Extinction wings, but she's not glorifying that extinction. They're more of a reminder of how her job, and Brimstone's magic, causes pain.

    Akiva's wings cause pain, too. When a nun catches one of his feathers, "It burned, and left the perfect outline of a feather seared into her flesh" (7.8). Ouch. Can you at least sell those on eBay?

    Anyway, these two sets of wings really come together when Karou brings Akiva home and realizes that "her Angel of Extinction wings [are] uncannily like his wings" (30.4). Later in the novel, we learn that Akiva could also be understood as an angel of extinction, seeing as how he tries to eradicate all species of chimaera from the world.

    So much for wings being all soft and angelic and beautiful, huh? These wings are fire

    [Akiva's] wings unfolded; they came around like a pair of great fans so the two of them were in a room of fire, more than ever in a world all their own. (34.54)

    That's not a world we're sure we want to live in. It's the world Akiva's people have created: one of fire, destruction and death. If we had wings, we'd fly away from that. And fast.

  • Mustaches


    Pink-haired author Laini Taylor is from Portland, and let's just say we can tell. This book's Portland hipster cred is totally cemented by all of the seemingly random references to mustaches. Karou meets Kazimir at a place called Mustache Bar... the only place where this tattoo would be cool.

    Then, there's Izîl, who believes that "men of wisdom" (18.31) often have fine mustaches. His examples: Mark Twain and Nietzsche. Other than Izîl however, none of the characters in the book actually have mustaches.

    Can we infer that none of them are actually "of wisdom", then? Well, maybe all the mustache talk is just Laini Taylor's attempt to land a cameo role on Portlandia. Or maybe male characters in the book want their mustaches to symbolize their stateliness—but, like in real life, you can't always get what you want…

  • Hope and Wishes

    A Thing for Feathers

    Wishes seem pretty innocuous, right? You wish on your birthday cake candles. You wish on a star. But then there's that old saying "be careful what you wish for." Daughter of Smoke and Bone is too classy to fall back on this cliché, but you can totally see this warning hiding between its lines.

    Brimstone lectures Karou early on that she shouldn't abuse her wish power for frivolous things like blue hair or ugly-ifying her romantic competition. He tells her, "I hope, child, but I don't wish" (21.21). That's great, dude, but what's the difference between the two?

    We later learn that wish magic derives from pain. Is that the only distinction, that hope doesn't need pain? Not quite. Wishes also come from outside power, so they can be taken away from you. Hope, that comes from within, and only you can let it be taken away.

    Karou taps into her hope—her inner strength—when she tries to find her way back to Brimstone's shop:

    By the strength of her will, or her hope, when she might have given up her chimaera for lost, she had instead done this. She had found a way. (24.7)

    It's no surprise that Karou ends up finding this hidden resolve. After all, to the chimaera, her name, Karou, means hope. Plus, she's the main character of this awesome series we're reading. So we would've guessed she had some fight in her. (Her insane ninja-knife skills were a good hint, too.)

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Limited Omniscient)

    If there's one thing that Cinderella, Snow White, Goldilocks, and Karou all have in common, it's that they're all the stars of fairy tales. Most fairy tales are told from the third-person P.O.V., and Daughter of Smoke and Bone isn't any different.

    The book starts by following Karou, and we get to know her pretty well. She likes art, she's conflicted about her identity (she asks a lot of, Who am I really? questions), she has some regrets, and she's lonely. The third-person P.O.V. keeps us from getting too angsty and depressed along with Karou, though.

    It also allows us a quick glimpse into what others, like Kazimir and Zuzana, think of Karou, the blue-haired wonder. Finally, it allows us to get personal with Mr. Angel of Death, Akiva. Having insight into both Karou and Akiva's perspectives allows us to better track their journey as swords-a-flying-enemies to lovers and back again.

    Karou and Akiva come from warring species, but they somehow meet in the middle to talk, and kiss, and stuff. Now, that totally selfish P.O.V.—the first-person—would never have given us the same understanding of how these two star-crossed lovers make compromises for each other.