Fantastical and unique
I was a little hesitant to pick up Strange the Dreamer. It is a hype book: one of those books that generates publicity and becomes immensely popular months before it is even released. In fact, this book was so popular that I thought it was already published. When I found it on Netgalley, I was so shocked. With hype books, I find they are never as good as readers make them out to be and I am left disappointed.
That cannot be said for Strange the Dreamer.
In Strange the Dreamer, Laini Taylor has created a beguiling, unique fantasy world that drew me into the story through impeccable characterisation, top-notch representations of cultures, and alluring writing. The novel follows Lazlo Strange, an orphan who grew up in a monastery but through sheer luck, finds himself working as a junior librarian in the Kingdom of Zosma’s magnificent library. For years Lazlo grows up amongst the books with his head in the clouds and earns the epithet, Strange the Dreamer. It is here that Lazlo begins writing a treatise on his life-long obsession, the mysterious city of Weep. 15 years ago, the name of this mythical city was stolen from everyone’s minds and anyone who travels to this Unseen City never returns. Lazlo is infatuated by this magical city and, when a delegate known as the Godslayer arrives in Zosma looking for scientists and scholars to help the city of Weep, Lazlo knows this is his only chance to escape his humdrum life and discover what exactly happened to Weep all those years ago.
I didn’t know what to expect going into this book. The only other Laini Taylor book I have read is Daughter of Smoke and Bone and, while I enjoyed it immensely, I did not have the desire to finish the series. But what I found in this novel was a fantastical book world like none other and I am now cursing myself for not reading Taylor’s other novels (I see a trip to the library in my future).
The plot of Strange the Dreamer was both fascinating and mind-boggling and I could not put the book down once the story began to develop. The story was so intricate and detailed that I was in a constant state of awe, tension and excitement, perched on the very edge of my seat. At its core, Strange the Dreamer is a book about gods – their origin story: Where did they come from? What do they want? How can we get rid of them? – and the lengths a supressed people will go to in order to escape from the under the thumb of their oppressors. The story is also about a young man who wants so much more from his life, and a young woman who just wants to be normal. Strange the Dreamer is a richly imaginative novel and I can honestly say I have never come across something like this before.
I don’t want to give much more about the plot away. I truly believe the reason I loved this book so much was because I didn’t know anything about it. The synopsis is purposely vague and that is most definitely a good thing: it allows the reader to go into this wonderful tale and experience all the tension and surprise you wouldn’t have felt if you knew anything more.
It is not often that I connect with a male protagonist; in fact, it is rare that I would. But I loved Lazlo and the emotional connection I felt with him was genuine. Lazlo is a dreamer and he wants so much more from his life than what he has been given. He loves books, (he even reads while he is walking and has knocked into more than a few walls), he has a healthy knowledge for fairy-tales, and he is compassionate and wants to help people – even someone who takes advantage of him. Lazlo is a nerdy sweetheart who blushes when he sees a girl’s collarbones but wants to go on an epic adventure and live life to the fullest. He is a wonderful protagonist and I can see everyone falling in love with him.
Sarai is the other protagonist and she touched my heart deeply. Sarai lives half a life: she is sequestered with her family in a citadel, hiding from the city of Weep below because if they knew she existed, they would kill her. She is known as the Muse of Nightmares and she spends her nights invading the minds of the sleeping people of Weep, implanting nightmares in their heads for the acts they committed fifteen years ago. But along the way, Sarai comes to care for the humans and discerns that her family were complicit in committing terrible sins against the people of Weep for over two hundred years. She is torn between hating them and loving them. But when she meets Lazlo, she is forced to make a decision once and for all.
Taylor’s writing style was superb and you can easily get lost in the flow of her beautiful sentences. The prose is almost poetic and perfectly complements the tone of the novel. Her writing encourages that magical feeling of the novel and you feel like Lazlo – like you are lost in a dream. It is so easy to be absorbed into this magical world and Taylor’s writing quickly transports you there. My experience reading this book is very similar to the experience I had reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. Martin’s books are magic-made-real and the reader sits in rigid tension, frantically flipping the pages to find out what they hell happens next. I had that same feeling with Strange the Dreamer.
I want to write so much more about this book but at the same time, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I finished this book with a million questions that I just know are going to be answered in the second and final novel. This is not your typical YA book: it is clever and makes you think. It delves deeper than the immediate plot to pose queries into that eternal, timeless question that might just be answered by looking at the cosmos: Is there anyone out there?