Title: Strange the Dreamer
Author: Laini Taylor
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Series? Yes. 1 of 2.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Hachette Australia/Date A Book in exchange for an honest review.
Laini Taylor weaves a languid and otherworldly dream with her latest release. Strange the Dreamer is a lesson in yearning. Readers will long for this vibrant world where science and magic exists side by side, where dreams and reality defy distinction, where there’s secrets and mysteries – none as perplexing as the puzzle of the lost city of Weep. Describing Strange the Dreamer is an exercise in futility, it’s as impossible as recalling the true name of Weep. I’ll try my best though, just for you!
‘Lazlo couldn’t have belonged at the library more truly if he were a book himself.’
For most of Zeru, Weep is a fable, a mere legend of a splendid city dreamed up to entertain children and fill the pages of a storybook. For Lazlo Strange, Weep is a compulsion, he’s been riveted by stories of its marvels as a child – and he’s determined to remember the Unseen City. Lazlo also dreams that one day, he will be able to walk down its legendary lapis lazuli roads and meet the the city’s famed Tizerkane warriors. For the junior librarian, it’s an impossible dream – yet he continues to hope and hunt for signs of the lost city within The Great Library of Zosma.
Lazlo is a breath of fresh air from the usual brooding, sarcastic male archetype we often see in young adult fiction. He’s charmingly earnest and humble, along with a dreamer’s heart, he also possesses that familiar draw to learning and reading. Lazlo’s character arc throughout the book is filled with the unexpected, and he surprises himself just as much as he surprises the reader. His interactions and relationships with the other characters in this book is one of the grounding emotional thread in this story. He’s a hero you’ll root for, even if he is convinced he will only ever be a side character in the legend of Weep.
Lazlo was not the only one who captured my heart. There is a large cast of characters from all walks of life within this novel, and they all sparkle with their own life. They felt distinctive and authentic, despite the impossibly beautiful and tragic situations they’re caught in. Their struggles are paradoxical and endlessly intriguing, and each of these characters defy distinction into villains or heroes. The dialogue between these characters also delighted in their wit and humour, as well as the gravity of the truths contained within them.
The world of Strange the Dreamer is at once vivid and elusive. Filled with tragedies and wonders alike. Within it, you’ll find innovators and warriors, gods and monsters, secrets piled amongst even more secrets. It is rich with its own mythologies and fairy tales, dark history and promises of both vengeance and redemption. What we see in the book itself is a world epic in scope and conveyed by Laini Taylor’s signature descriptive genius. But I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of Zeru, and I can’t wait to hear more tales from this world with the next instalment of the duology.
While browsing through other reviewer’s thoughts on Goodreads, I found that many people had issues with the pacing in Strange the Dreamer. While I can see how the pacing was sluggish in parts, I enjoyed these slower moments because they allowed me to indulge in the carefully crafted world and characters. I was a huge fan of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, but I think I love Strange the Dreamer even more because these slower moments connected me to its characters. The book is also filled with poignant foreshadowing, and events which seem inconsequential at first eventually weaves together. By the end of the book, I was convinced Laini Taylor is not only a dreamsmith, she’s a goddamn genius.
While the publicity for Strange the Dreamer has publishers worldwide working overtime, we only got hints and teases of what’s to come. Alchemy, blood candy, moths, monsters, gold, and endless shades of blue. There’s a reason for all the enigma. Strange the Dreamer is a book you want to be unprepared for. I will go into more details with the second part of this review, while they won’t be blatant spoilers, I feel the information within could dampen your reading experience a little. This is only because I am in the camp that firmly believes this book should be approached completely blind. So feel free to come back after you’ve read the book!
Important Note before you go: Although I would love to make a blanket recommendation of Strange the Dreamer, I do think the content of this book may cause distress to certain readers. There is implied sexual violence within this book, and while none of it is explicit or sensationalised, it is alluded to numerous times. There is also non-graphic physical violence within the book.
MILD SPOILERS BELOW!
“Beautiful and full of monsters?”
“All the best stories are.”
This review is already quite lengthy, but I can’t write about Strange the Dreamer and neglect to mention Sarai and her family. As soon as we meet them and their Citadel, the blue hues that shrouded the book and its publicity starts making perfect sense. Blue is the colour of the gods, but it’s also the the colour of mesarthium: the alien metal of their home. Our first encounter with Sarai is around page 80, and the secrets of her existence turn the already wondrous Strange the Dreamer into something phenomenal.
Laini Taylor is no stranger to themes of love that flourishes despite division, of tales about conquerors and those they oppressed, of impossible wishes and dreams realised in unlikely places. You only need to look at her last trilogy to know that it’s a subject she treats with poise and respect. Strange the Dreamer takes these themes and reintroduces them in a fantastic world. Where blue skinned monsters are more than what they seem, where good people can be convinced to do monstrous things, where there is insidious darkness and fear – but also hope of salvation. I think all the best tales are a mirror to humanity, and this one is no exception.
Recent YA releases that attempts to tackle the issue of racial segregation via metaphors of fictional beings tend to falter and offend – this approach tends to highlight otherness rather than promote diversity. Laini Taylor avoids this trapping by giving these blue skinned gods an active voice within the story, one that constantly challenges both Weep and the reader. Sarai isn’t the sole mouthpiece of her people, her companions have their individual dreams and humanity- particularly Minya. I can’t wait to see how Laini Taylor further develops these themes in future books.
I also love the concept of dreams within the scope of this story. Whether it’s Lazlo’s improbable dream of a splendid Weep when contrasted with its brutal history. Or Sarai’s power which allows her to influence dreams, yet she is powerless against her own reality. Where the book shined the most was in these dreamscape meetings between the two central characters. Their connection is tenuous yet true, a celebration of life and a longing for more. I haven’t been so charmed by a romance in years.
The ending of Strange the Dreamer was shattering. It totally changed the nature of the novel, yet it also felt perfectly fitting thanks to Laini Taylor’s careful foreshadowing. I have no doubts this will end up as one of my favourite novels of this year, perhaps of this decade. *clutches book to chest*
MILD SPOILER SECTION ENDS
Are you planning to read Strange the Dreamer? What did you think of it? Please mark spoilers within your comments ❤