For me this book has the feel of an older Guillermo Del Toro production with the eastern European setting and the sad fantastical monsters.
The story grows exponentially as we learn, alongside the heroine Karou, the truth of her existence. In the beginning she is just a quirky art student with a vivid imagination, some cool friends and a not-so-cool ex-boyfriend. Then there is the first big shift in realization as we learn that Karou's imaginary art stories are real and we meet Brimstone, her 'monster' father-figure, and her other strange family members. Things get even weirder when she goes on her first 'errand' and collects the teeth Brimstone uses in his mysterious work. It's from this point that the surety of knowing what is good and what is evil is taken away. I felt like I was slipping from one to the other as each event and character was truly revealed.
When an angel suddenly attacks Karou there is the first glimpse of what is to be a tragic Romeo and Juliet style romance and from then on the story expands more and more into other worlds, ancient enmities, never-ending battles, and life reborn.
The book had some major shifts in direction, to the extent that it seemed disjointed at times. The big flashback felt awkwardly placed. I'm wondering if it could have been done more gradually. But then again it's a very necessary revelation and the story of the Chimaera is fascinating.
At times I was mad at Karou for her obliviousness to those around her. Why couldn't she see what Chiro really wanted if they were such friends? And why couldn't she leave well enough alone when Brimstone asked her? Karou is so beautiful and 'good' on the surface but her self-absorption is the cause of a lot of the trouble.
Akiva is relentlessly sad and was hard to feel connected to. I liked his story best when it looked at his family. As a romantic lead he was good but I want more from him than just sad looks and noble self-sacrifice. I hope he really grows over the next couple of books.
The writing is beautiful and the world the author created is amazing. I love the examination of HOPE vs MAGIC as sources of goodness and power. This and the character of Brimstone are the jewels in this story for me.