Serena’s Review: “Strange the Dreamer”

28449207Book: “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: 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?

Review: This books if full of dreams and mystery. Moths and monsters. Poems painted onto a page leaving stardust in its wake, and images leaping from page to mind in a way that pulls you further in. And, while the audiobook version of this story was incredible, I spent much of my time while listening wishing and dreading that the story would unfurl faster. And, by the end, this combination of joy and dread was the perfect explanation of this book.

Lazlo Strange is a boy who grew up without a name. He has one, but it is similar to the “Jon Snows” of the world, and his childhood was that of an orphan raised among monks who finds his true home in books, and then later, in a library. (Obviously the librarian in my loved the fact that Lazlo was a librarian and that this fact, combined with his love of dreams, fairytales, and curiosity (traits that ring true for librarians everywhere, I’m sure we’d all agree) was repeatedly referenced and critical to the story.) And when he’s given the opportunity to visit the mysterious city of Weep that had suddenly cut off contact with the rest of the world years ago, Lazlo, armed with his dreams, is quick to take up the call. What he finds is much more mysterious, wonderful, and terrible than he ever imagined.

Beyond this basic plot, it’s hard to discuss much of this book due to many of the mysteries at the core of this story. I will say that I was surprised to find, about a third of the way into the book, that we were given another viewpoint character. One who was completely shocking and tremendously important to the story. But one whose history, motives, and role in this book would spoil much of it if I dug in too deep.

Lazlo, himself, was a fantastic character. It is easy to see how he falls into the roles he does and becomes generally beloved by those around him. He’s endlessly optimistic, creative, and sees the world in a way that is new and, most importantly, beautiful. And, like Jon Snow, Lazlo is much more than he seems. I was able to guess where the story was going with his character, but given the many other mysteries that took me completely by surprise, and the ones that are still remaining, this is hardly much to pat myself on the back over.

Thematically, this story covers a lot of pretty dark and grim ground. I was surprised by the levels of brutality the author brought to play, but it became clear that nothing else would do to fully realize the true horrors and terrible choices that were before all the characters involved. Both “villains” on either side of the conflict were terrible and terribly tragic. It was easy to see how each ended up where they did, and to feel the brokenness of their characters, and question what one would have done differently in their positions.

Beyond this more individual level, the story explored systematic oppression and trauma. And, the other side of the coin, the ugly side of hatred and fear, even if those feelings are based in truths. There was one line in the book about good people being just as capable of committing atrocities as the bad ones, only in the good people’s case they call those atrocities “justice.” I loved this, and it’s just one of a million examples of the careful handling of difficult subjects that Taylor covers in this story.

But, to balance all of this darkness, there is the sheer beauty of Taylor’s writing and storytelling. I’ve read other books by her, but it’s been a while and I had forgotten just how creative and poetic her writing style is. It walks right up to the edge of purple prose, looks at it, and walks forward, fully confident that it is beautiful and that that accusation won’t stick. There’s not a single falter in the entire book in this aspect. And the style of writing is just half of it. The sheer expanse of creative and lovely imagery is staggering. Taylor creates worlds within worlds and then invites readers to immerse themselves alongside her characters.

The only point that knocks this down from a “10” rating is the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger. I didn’t know going in that this was part of a trilogy, so that’s on me. But I also feel that it is possible to write trilogies without cliffhangers, and I’ve just never personally cared for them. This, however, may not be as off-putting for other readers (especially for those who know about it, or at least the fact that this is the first in a series, going in). Even with it, I highly recommend this book for fantasy readers everywhere. I think this has been marketed as young adult, but I feel like it falls pretty firmly into “new adult” (whatever that really means in the larger scheme of things). Who cares! Any fantasy fan should check out this book!

Rating 9: Dark and mysterious, full of wonder and wonderful terror. A must read for fantasy fans!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Strange the Dreamer” is included on the Goodreads lists: “Emotion Overload in Fantasy/Paranormal” and “Original Stories . . . a Breath of Fresh Air.”

Find “Strange the Dreamer” at your library using WorldCat!

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