This review also posted at The Midnight Garden.Days of Blood and Starlight may well have been my most anticipated release this year. I was captivated by the lush and layered world Laini Taylor built in its predecessor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and rendered absolutely in love with both Karou and Akiva. The thrill of the tension in their discovery of one another, the sweet ache of their romance as it unfolded, and the crush of sorrow for them both at the end stayed with me the many months I waited for the release of its sequel.So, to say I had high hopes is an understatement. I couldn’t wait to dive back into Karou and Akiva’s world, and see just how they would mend the rift between them--BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO MEND IT, RIGHT?--and save their world together.What I got was nothing close to what I expected, but everything the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone needed to be. “You know how, at the end of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet wakes up in the crypt and Romeo’s already dead? He thought she was dead so he killed himself right next to her?” [...] “Well, imagine if she woke up and he was still alive, but...” She swallowed, waiting out a tremor in her voice. “But he had killed her whole family. And burned her city. And killed and enslaved her people.”That’s the gist of where we begin in the sequel. Karou travels through the portal with Razgut, to find Loramendi completely razed, with nothing left of her people but a thick layer of ash on the ground. Devastated, and ashamed by her weakness in falling for Akiva, and inadvertently causing the genocide of her people, Karou finds a small group of chimaera soldiers and joins them in their plan to overthrow the seraphim.For Akiva’s part, he returns to Eretz heartbroken and guilt-ridden, unable to stomach the increasing violence and ignorance of his seraphim brethren. With his brother Hazael, and sister Liraz, they begin to devise a plan to put an end to the war between seraphim and chimaera. Laini Taylor’s world building is nothing short of astounding. In this, we are given a detailed look into two different cultures, their infrastructure and their history--all delivered in a way that is flawless, seamless, and without leaving you feeling as though you’ve just been given a fictional history lesson.But where Taylor really shines in this follow up is in her characters. Where so many others fail to create secondary characters that feel as real as the protagonists, she has a way of creating people that dig under your skin. You connect with them in an instant without really knowing why, until their purpose is revealed. There is no one who is not fully engaged, three dimensional, and capable of drawing an emotion from the reader.Days of Blood and Starlight is a gritty and violent follow up, lacking any of the romance and off-beat vibrance of its counterpart--and it’s all the better for it. This story is now so much more than an epic romance. It is the story of an endless war, the penance of pain, and the price of peace. “Mercy, she had discovered, made mad alchemy; a drop of it could dilute a lake of hate.”It ends, as Daughter of Smoke and Bone did, with a bittersweet kind of hope. And leaves me in the same place I was this time last year--absolutely entranced, and counting the days until the next book is released.