Strange the Dreamer: Complex and compelling

Strange the Dreamer by Laini TaylorStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor YA fantasy book reviewsStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

On first look, it might seem that Laini Taylor was a little too ambitious with her latest offering, Strange the Dreamer (2017), kind of like an overenthusiastic cook that goes a bit overboard with their cake ingredients. The blurb doesn’t help matters, citing a war between gods and men, a mysterious city, a mythical hero, a librarian, alchemy, nightmares and monsters as some of the components of the story — which will no doubt have raised an eyebrow or two. But just like its protagonist, Strange the Dreamer is far from what you first expect.

Our story opens with Lazlo Strange, a war orphan brought up by monks. He is, as the title suggests, a dreamer, and spends his days fighting mythical warriors in an orchard. He dreams of one day going to Weep, a fabled city where a war against the Mesarthim — the race of gods that enslaved the people of Weep — was won by the heroes Lazlo dreams of. This is all well and good, but as a lowly orphan all Lazlo really can do is, well, dream.

A twist of fate enables him to leave the monastery and become a librarian, and this is where his obsession with Weep reaches new levels. He spends his days researching the story of Weep, even though the rest of civilisation has dismissed it all as myth. But then the impossible happens and miraculously Lazlo is offered a chance to go to Weep itself with the warriors he has spent his childhood dreaming of.

Muse of Nightmares Kindle Edition by Laini Taylor  (Author)

Sequel

It is difficult here to go much further into the plot with giving the story away, but the narrative begins to split between two lovers as we see two separate sides of the war that rent gods from the earth. Taylor poses ethical questions about the way in which history is written — usually, as we know, by the victors — but she manages to do so without sermonising. It’s a fine line to tread and she certainly does it masterfully.

The world-building is, of course, pretty impressive and will no doubt be what many readers find most astounding about Strange the Dreamer. Set in a Middle-Eastern-esque world, Taylor weaves a rich tapestry of mythology, architecture, history and food through wonderful prose. Though she can be a little heavy-handed with the description at times, it certainly makes for a usually rich fantasy setting.

But perhaps the most delightful thing about Strange the Dreamer is the characters themselves — which surely is what every author is striving for. Lazlo Strange makes for an understated and compelling protagonist. He looks like a complete thug — his nose was broken by a falling library book — but is thoughtful, introverted and unassuming. Readers will find themselves rooting for him at every step, which is in large part due to the wish-fulfilment of every reader wanting to jump into the adventure that they’re reading about, just like Strange. Very meta.

The story then branches between multiple viewpoints and narratives, all giving us a different perspective on events. This once more poses questions about race, about victors and vanquished, right and wrong, without being overbearingly moral. Nor does the plot lose pace, which, considering the size of Taylor’s cast, is no mean feat.

If there was a criticism to make, it would be the slightly hazy history of the war between gods and men. The war ended 200 years ago, but the heroes who expelled the gods are only around forty years old, and the war orphans we meet are even younger. Perhaps I’ve just missed a trick here, but if anyone can clarify the timeline, that would be great.

Now, cliffhangers are usually the cheapest trick an author can use and many readers won’t bother to continue a series after a highly unsatisfying ending. But, somehow Taylor manages to pull it off. Enough of the story is tied up to satisfy the huge plot questions, yet she leaves one major, heartbreaking point unanswered. Fans of rich fantasy world-building and nuanced characters will enjoy Strange the Dreamer and so will most other readers for that matter.

Finally, I have some good news for American readers who enjoy interacting with authors on book tours: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has recently announced that Laini Taylor will be making appearances at bookstores around the country over the next few months in support of Strange the Dreamer. Her tour will begin on March 28, at Third Place Books in Seattle, WA; from there she’ll be at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, CA on March 29, and at Kepler’s Books in San Francisco, CA, on March 30. Later dates and locations can be found here.

Publication date: March 28, 2017. A new epic fantasy by National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Laini Taylor of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy. The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around–and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries–including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage. Welcome to Weep.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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One comment

  1. Excellent, informative review, Ray!

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