For years Laini Taylor’s been a favorite here at FanLit, and now I know why. I picked up Night of Cake & Puppets, a stand-alone novella set in Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE world, because it was short and available on audio at exactly the length I needed for a recent car trip: two hours and forty-five minutes. Perfect. That’s not all that was perfect about Night of Cake & Puppets. Everything was perfect about Night of Cake & Puppets. Well, except I wish it had been longer. Longer would have been perfect.
Night of Cake & Puppets is about Zuzana and Mik’s first date. Zuzana, in case you don’t know, is the best friend of Karou, Laini Taylor’s heroine in the SMOKE & BONE books. I haven’t read those books, but that didn’t decrease my enjoyment at all. (Or at least I don’t think it did. Who knows, maybe I would have liked it even more if I had already known the characters.) Anyway, Zuzana has a crush on Mik, who she calls “Violin Boy” because, duh, he plays the violin in the play that she’s a puppeteer for. As far as she knows, Mik has no idea that Zuzana even exists, but she’s got a plan to change all that. And so begins a night of magic. A night of cake and puppets.
So, what’s so awesome about Laini Taylor? Well, first of all she remembers what it’s like to be a teenager and she has some sharp insights into the adolescent mind. Zuzana and Karou think and talk like real teenagers (I know this because there are some that live in my house and, besides, I actually used to be one). Her teens sound authentic and modern, but they’re not the angsty boy-crazy popularity-obsessed girls that populate so many YA stories these days. Zuzana, Karou, and Mik have hobbies and interests beyond music, fashion and gossip. They have jobs and goals, they know things, they want to learn more things, they are creative and have sophisticated senses of humor. These are interesting people that I’d like to know.
Not only are Taylor’s characters interesting, but so is her setting. This story takes place in Prague in the winter, which is really cool, and I felt like I was there drinking hot tea in a café on a snowy night. And, to top it all off, Laini Taylor’s prose is lovely and seems effortlessly so, not pretentiously so. It’s clear, clever, funny, and filled with vivid imagery. The story is told in first person perspective from the points of view of both Zuzana and Mik.
For those who’ve read Taylor’s other work, this novella, which is really a short romance, may seem light and fluffy. It’s a feel-good story that gives just a bit of background on one of Taylor’s secondary characters. Karou, the heroine of Taylor’s novels, is only present on the other end of Zuzana’s cell phone. As long as you know to expect that, you should be immensely pleased with Night of Cake & Puppets. It’s sweet, romantic, witty, and completely entertaining all the way through.
I listened to the audio version which was produced by Hachette Audio and read by both Khristine Hvam, who reads Zuzana’s POV chapters, and Kevin T. Collins, who reads Mik’s chapters. Both do a great job with the Czech accents. Hvam does the other SMOKE & BONE audiobooks, too, so I can’t wait to read them.
It’s been a while since I’ve read Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE trilogy, but I remember well the characters of Zuzana and Mik. Although only tangentially involved in the main plot (which involved a cosmic battle between angels and chimera) this spin-off novella explores what they were up to while the rest of the characters were off fighting an epic war: going on a cute first date.
Originally published as an e-book, Taylor describes this story as “eating a macaroon between courses”, and that’s a nice way to put it. Although you’ll probably want to have read the original trilogy to understand some of the details of Night of Cake & Puppets, it still works as a sweet little story about a girl who gets her crush’s attention through a quasi-scavenger hunt that involves a little bit of magic.
Set in Prague, Taylor makes the most of the beautiful winter setting in order to capture the rapture of realizing your crush likes you back, and the tentative steps Zuzana and Mik take towards each other, using their gifts as a puppet-maker and violinist to make their feelings known.
Although Karou only appears in text-messages, there’s a fun banter between her and Zuzana as they discuss her options across the course of the evening, and Taylor’s husband Jim Di Bartolo provides the illustrations, many of which are presented as Zuzana’s own sketches.
Just to fill out the page-count, there’s also a chapter from Daughter of Smoke & Bone and an excerpt from the graphic novel. Taylor’s poetic-prose is as magical as ever, and this makes for a lovely little “filler” for anyone reading the trilogy, or who simply enjoys this author’s work.