Title: Strange the Dreamer
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Rating: 5 Stars
“I think you’re a fairy tale. I think you’re magical, and brave, and exquisite. And I hope you’ll let me be in your story.”
Dear fellow Babblers,
I don’t recall a time before that I have felt so deeply a part of a fictional universe than I did as I read Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. This book is for anyone who dreams, hides away in their imagination, and feels distaste for reality because of it’s translucence. It’s rare that I could feel at the same time a part of the story as well as a reader. With vivid descriptions and sensual passages that arouse the senses, Strange the Dreamer causes one to reflect on reading itself. As readers we are constantly reminded of the reasons why we are readers, why we daydream, and why we prefer the story world to the ‘real’ world. This book is a masterpiece of fantastical realism with a twist of romance which I feel will one day become a classic, earning it’s spot alongside the Harry Potter and Twilight series.
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 or 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?
Welcome to Weep.
Lazlo Strange is just as his name insinuates, strange. He is a war orphan whose birth and origins are unknown. He is brought up by a group of stale and dry monks in the city of Zosma. By age twenty is a junior librarian. He is infatuated with tails of Weep, or as he likes to call, the Unseen City. He is rarely seen without a book in his hand or his eyes elsewhere than hidden inside the ancient pages of books recounting the stories of Weep. He has spent seven of his youthful years studying this lost city and learning its language. It is not until the Godslayer comes to Zosma in search of assistants to help him give Weep back its sunlight that Lazlo’s dreams may just become possible after all. Finally, this faraway land that Lazlo has met only in his dreams becomes something greater, perhaps even something greater than himself. What awaits him in the city remains a mystery and it is not until the moon glows in the sky, lays his head down to rest in the Godslayer’s room, and loses himself in a lucid slumber that he discovers the truth shadowing over Weep.
We slowly learn the magnitude of the anathemas hiding within the city. Forces of magic, hatred, and sacrifice turned Weep, many years ago, into a city in despair, haunted by nightmares, spirits, and ghostly secrets. On the ground are the humans who suffer the memories of bloodshed and corruption left behind by the gods while up above, in a citadel hovering over the city are four young survivors, godspawn, as well as a number of ghosts tending to their needs.
As the novel progresses reality blurs into dreams and dreams become just as inescapably real as daylight itself. The dangers Lazlos confronts are both complex and enigmatically portrayed. There is so much imagery and eloquent descriptions describing Weep that I feel as though I could accurately paint a picture of the city without doing injustice towards Taylor’s imagination. I felt myself immersed and becoming one with the story, sometimes perceiving the city from Lazlo’s perspective, and sometimes from one of the godspawn’s, Sarai’s. It’s always such a delight to fall into a story the way I did with Strange the Dreamer. When I read I lost touch with reality and, for the moment, only knew of Weep and the fictional world.
The romance that blossoms between Lazlo and Sarai is gentle and precious – two young people who are innocent in the games of love, but somehow immediately are aware that they are in love with each other. Sarai, or should we call her the ‘Muse of Nightmares’ meets Lazlo in his dreams. They begin a kindling romance that is confined to the moonlit hours, held together by moths, and ended when the sun rises and Sarai must return up above to the citadel until the following night. Together, Lazlo and Sarai share a power that could possibly put an end to what lies at the core of the city’s collapse: hatred. Each dream of a time where the godspawn can live amongst the humans without being killed on site. All seems possible…in Lazlo’s dreams. However, as the story progresses we soon realizes that while dreams and reality do overlap, they still remain invariably opposite from one another.
If there is one thing I am to criticize (but only briefly) about this novel is the complexity and effort that it takes to follow each and every vital situation. For example, Sarai lives in the citadel with three other godspawn: Minya, Sparrow, and Feral. Aside from the happenings down below concerning Lazlo and the Godslayer there’s just as much conflict passing between these four. The novel alternating perspectives several time in order to account for what occurs in Lazlo’s world and that which occurs in Sarai’s. This is all fine and dandy, but at times I felt myself a bit lost and quite overwhelmed. There’s a lot going on in this novel just concerning the mystery of Weep that I feel as though all the drama and chapters which zero-in on the lives of the godspawns was rather unnecessary and altogether distracting. But then again, that’s only what my personal experience reading was like; I’m sure most readers loved the multi-faceted plot-twists with many stories blurring into others.
Lazlo was my absolute favorite character, and given that I’m an avid reader and round-the-clock daydreamer, it simple to see why. He lives vicariously through the stories he hears as well as the ones he tells. Through Lazlo’s character Taylor wondrously illustrates how it is not simply the wise or most well off of men who succeed but those who think with their hearts and follow their dreams will discover. His infatuation with a city he only knows through myths leads him into a journey that will change his life beyond all logical reasoning, for, this book is not about rationality at all. It’s about dreams and what happens when dreams become fused with reality.
Taylor’s writing style is poetic, but lengthy. Although the narrative moves slowly and their are several times in which the story is paused just to muse on a character’s sleeping position, I never felt as though the story was just dragging on. There were so many beautiful standalone sentences on each of these pages that I often found myself repeating the same sentence to myself over and over again just because of how harmonic it sounded. Her descriptions of her characters are magical, realistic, and somehow utterly relatable. These characters can steal rain from other cities, step into each others dreams, bottle spirit in a vial, and even give life to gardens. Plot twist after plot twist had me reading day and night, in anticipation of which of the delegates would bring back Weep’s sunlight and where Lazlo’s future was headed: alongside Sarai or alone? Taylor captures the very soul of humanity with her thought provoking approach to her characters. Underlying this magical tales she confronts themes such as hatred and identity. Does hatred win? Is identity determined by birth or by upbringing? I really enjoyed the way the author explored these themes without taking the enchantment away from the narrative.
Taylor’s splendid prose won me over from the very first page. The fluidity of her words melted from the page and made their way into my heart. This is one of those books that I will tuck away in my mind and will always be a part of me. Dreams, stories, books, mythical creatures, magic – this book is all I could hope for and more. Whether or not one is a fantasy, young adult, or even nonfiction reader I believe that Strange the Dreamer is for readers of all genres. There is so much to take away from and give to this book. Taylor describes the fictional world with so much imagery but not too much as to leave the reader without opportunity of imagination.
The novel’s plot, characters, and writing bring together an imagination that may perhaps indeed be real. We are brought into an intriguing world where noting is how it seems on the surface, but then again is even more deceptive in the dream world. With a stark ending that leaves one hanging, “because this story was not over yet,” Taylor has created a masterpiece novel that has been loved and shared, just like magic. She is definitely an author that I recommend, again, to all readers simply because her imagination is so real and full of heartbreaking emotion that it is impossible to not think for at least a moment that everything happening in this book is real. This book is beautiful and full of terror, just like any book of perfection, yes perfection, is.
(Book image credits go to Goodreads)