Study Guide

Daughter of Smoke & Bone Themes

  • Isolation

    Oh, hello. We didn't see you there. No, we weren't singing "Call Me Maybe" to ourselves.. Why do you say that? Wait, don't go, we're not crazy… we're just lonely. See, loneliness can drive a person to do strange things, and we get a glimpse of this in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Karou is experiencing an intense longing for some sort of connection, and that's what leads her on this quest to self-discovery. She wants to find her soulmate, but in order to do that, she's gotta understand her own soul first—right? So, isolation seems to affect almost every decision Karou (and Akiva) makes.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. What strengths does Karou manage to derive from her feelings of loneliness and isolation?
    2. Brimstone lives a relatively isolated life. Do you think he feels isolated? If he does, why doesn't he ever express it?
    3. If Karou is so sensitive about being alone, why does she leave her friend Zuzana and go into the Elsewhere at the end of the novel?
    4. Akiva has a brother and sister—why does he prefer to act alone?

    Chew on This

    When a person is a lonely as Karou is, the idea of finding someone whom she is "meant" to be with is incredibly appealing.

    Brimstone tells us that magic derives from pain. The pain of isolation gives Karou the strength and independence that, while not exactly magical, change her life forever.

  • Lies and Deceit

    We love what you've done with your hair. That shade of blue really brings out your eyes. Of course we're being honest with you, you're our BFFL… Okay, we're totally lying. Everyone lies sometimes, and deceit is an integral part of Karou's life in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. As a supernatural kind of girl with the power of wish magic, she has to lie to people on a daily basis—not everyone can know she's not human. It wouldn't be safe. However, Karou is still discovering who—and what—she is, so sometimes, she deceives herself as well. Like: does she love Akiva, or is that just her loneliness talking…?

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Why does Karou feel she has to lie to her friend, Zuzana, in order to keep her in her life?
    2. What are the consequences when Karou finally decides to be honest with Zuzana about her lifestyle?
    3. Why does Akiva deceive his relatives? Is it for the same reasons that Madrigal deceives her sister?
    4. Why does Brimstone keep Karou's childhood clouded in secrecy?

    Chew on This

    Karou is so good at deceiving people because she was raised by Brimstone—that guy can evade questions better than a greased pig dodging cowboys at a rodeo.

    Magic is a double-edge sword for Karou. It gives her an edge that other people don't have, but it is also something she has to cover up.

  • Lust

    Lust: it's arguably the most fun of the seven deadly sins. It's also inevitable in any novel that is raging with teen hormones, like Daughter of Smoke and Bone. A big part of Karou's coming-of-age journey is learning to separate lust from love. But love and lust are so tightly intertwined that separating them feels impossible sometimes. Take Akiva, Karou's long-lost love interest; we can't read two pages about the dude without being reminded just how hot he is, with those chiseled features, those smoldering eyes, that... Ahem. Where were we? We'll be talking about love later, but for now it's all about lust.

    Questions About Lust

    1. How much of Zuzana and Mik's relationship is driven by lust?
    2. Why was Karou attracted to Kazimir?
    3. Why is Karou so attracted to Akiva? How much influence do you think Madrigal's old feelings have on her lust for Akiva?
    4. Is Thiago's attraction to Madrigal based in lust, or does he have other reasons for wanting to marry her?

    Chew on This

    First comes lust, then comes marriage… That might not be how the saying goes, both Zuzana and Karou always talk about how hot the guys they like are. So while Karou talks about wanting true love, we're not totally convinced that's what she's after.

    Kazimir symbolizes lust; Akiva symbolizes love. But each man has an element of the other in him that complicates matters.

  • Identity

    If Karou could drive, her license would need to be printed on one of those lenticular cards. You know, those fun cards that, when you tilt them left, there's one picture on them, but when you tilt them right, there's a different picture? From one angle, our protagonist is Karou—the blue-haired artist. From the other, she's Madrigal—a chimaera executed for having an affair with Akiva, a seraphim. Together, she's... well, she's a hot mess in the middle of an identity crisis. When most people try to find themselves, they don't actually find another person inside of them. Karou does.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Why did Brimstone hide Karou's true identity from her?
    2. Now that Karou has discovered that she is Madrigal resurrected, should she live her life as Madrigal would? Are Karou's seventeen years as herself now null and void?
    3. When chimaera resurrect, they sometimes go into a new body. How does this affect their identities (how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them)?

    Chew on This

    Even though they're basically the same person, Karou and Madrigal must be different because they were raised in completely different worlds.

    Brimstone didn't just make a new body for Madrigal to enter after her execution. He made her a brand new identity: new name, new body, new life.

  • The Supernatural

    If we didn't know any better, we'd think Laini Taylor worked some magic on her own hair. Like Karou, the heroine of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, she has some supernaturally striking locks. Anyway, Karou's hair just scratches the surface of the deep world of magic in this book. We get eased into it along with Karou, learning about wish magic first, and then other species of supernatural best. The originality of Taylor's mythology sets it apart from other supernatural young-adult novels. There's nary a vampire or werewolf in sight. (Although it does have the YA anti-hero du jour: the angel.)

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. Magic isn't all fun and games and blue hair. What are the consequences of wish magic?
    2. What aspects of the real world seem supernatural to Akiva?
    3. Why does the supernatural world of the chimaera and the seraphim have some of the same problems as our world (prejudice, war, slavery, etc.)?
    4. Why doesn't Zuzana believe Karou when she finally tells her the truth? Would anyone believe Karou without proof?

    Chew on This

    Karou isn't into Kazimir's pretend vampire tour because the supernatural elements in her life are real. She doesn't need to pretend.

    The exotic descriptions of far-away lands (for American readers, anyway) like Paris and Marrakesh show us that the real world is not only a little bit magical to a foreigner like Akiva, it can be magical to us normal folks, too.

  • Appearances

    Appearances lead to a lot of good-for-nothin' trouble in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Different appearances seem to be one of the driving factors behind the chimaera-seraphim war, for example. And they cause prejudice within different types of chimaera. What is with people (or people-like things) and their tendency to discriminate against others based on their appearances? Yikes. This book seems to have some anti-war social commentary in it, we think. Oh, and then there's all that appearance-driven lust in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and that trading of bodies that can happen when some chimaera are reincarnated. So we were wondering: beauty may only be skin deep, but what if you're wearing someone else's skin?

    Questions About Appearances

    1. Karou is able to alter her appearance with a wish. Why does she choose to have tattoos and blue hair, and what do these choices say about her?
    2. To Karou and Zuzana, what is the definition of ideal beauty? Are any of this book's characters beautiful in a different way?
    3. Why do creature-aspect chimaera want to appear human?

    Chew on This

    As art students, Karou and Zuzana are big fans of "classic beauty": statuesque, chiseled, symmetrical beauty.

    For a book about reincarnated souls, the body is still shown to have a lot of power. The chimaera, who have the power to change their bodies, clearly place a lot of stock in superficial appearance.

  • Art & Culture

    Prague is a city rife with art and culture—all those gorgeous buildings and paintings and street performers make it feel like there's magic in the air. And with Karou around, there is. But even without her wish-power, Karou would still be able to create some magic with the power of her art. She's not the only artsy-fartsy one in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, either. Zuzana has her puppets. Kazimir has his tacky vampire tour (not all street performers have talent). Even Brimstone's dark arts are just that: arts. So, we think that, in this book, art isn't about looking pretty... although that's always nice... art is about creation.

    Questions About Art & Culture

    1. How does Zuzana's puppet show serve as a kind of allegory for Karou and her identity crisis?
    2. How do Karou's sketchbooks link people to other worlds? (Think of the students in her school, Izîl, Issa, etc.)
    3. Can Akiva's tattoos be considered art? What about Karou's? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The only way Karou knows how to express herself is through her art. The fact that people don't realize she's telling the truth, well—that doesn't really matter. Art often tells truths through lies.

    As a soldier, Madrigal has no time to be artistic. But seeing the amount of time and care she puts into crafting Chiro's necklace, we think she would be, given the opportunity. Like, given a new life—in Karou.

  • Warfare

    Earth is a planet wracked by war. And over-population. And global warming. And... um, kittens. And the internet. (We don't want to get you too down.) Anyway, you'd be hard pressed to find a moment in human history where there wasn't a war going on somewhere on the planet. Where Karou lives, in Prague, there is evidence of the horrors of World War II—but that's in the past. In Akiva and Madrigal's world, however, war rages on. Violence only begets more violence, but is there any other way to end a war? We guess we'll have to read the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone to find out.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. What real-world wars are similar to the ongoing war between the chimaera and the seraphim? Explain your answer.
    2. How has the war between the chimaera and the seraphim defined these two cultures?
    3. How does Madrigal and Akiva's relationship change both characters' views on war?

    Chew on This

    War is hell... for everyone. The ingrained prejudices between chimaera and seraphim cause great suffering for both species.

    Karou's world—our world—has also had its share of war. Karou lives in memory of those wars, with statues as reminders of past horrors. But, unlike Madrigal, she has not lived through a war herself. Yet.

  • Love

    Many of the world's greatest fairy tales are about love. Cinderella and Prince Charming. Snow White and Prince Charming. Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming. Man, that guy gets around, doesn't he? In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, we have Karou and... Akiva, who is kind of a prince and very charming. And guess what? It's the power of love that unlocks Karou's true identity. By hooking up with Akiva, she discovers who she really is; we guess love really can transform you.

    Questions About Love

    1. Would Akiva have fallen in love with Madrigal if she hadn't saved his life on the battlefield?
    2. Does Karou love Akiva for who he is, or does she love him because Madrigal loved him? How will we ever know?
    3. Even though the issue never comes up, we want to know: does Zuzana love her boyfriend, Mik?

    Chew on This

    In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, love is less about choice and more about destiny.

    Like in classic fairy tales, Karou is "awoken" by Akiva—not with a kiss, but with a wishbone. Turkey parts are the new kisses.