I cannot get enough of Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. It’s so unique, so lyrical, so well-written. It poses an almost impossible conflict, a vicious cycle that—save for the empathy and charity of a few—would keep on ruining lives:
“It was the hate of the used and tormented, who are the children of the used and tormented, and whose own children will be used and tormented.”
Lazlo Strange is an orphan who dreams of lost cities and fantastical beasts. Unfortunately, the closest he’ll ever come to his dreams is the books that he shelves as a librarian in Zosma. That is, the closest he’ll get until his dreams come to him, and the lost city—called Weep—needs his help. What he doesn’t know, what he couldn’t have possibly guessed, is that all those fairy tales he devoured about Weep are closer to the truth than even he—The Dreamer—could have dreamed. Suddenly the world is filled with gods and monsters that are remarkably human inside. So what really makes gods…and monsters, and heroes and villains?
This book immediately caught my attention when the blue girl fell to earth, and it didn’t let go until the very last sentence. Not even then, because the end was left unfinished, saving that for the sequel, Muse of Nightmares.
I love Lazlo’s dreamy character, especially when he rises to the occasion and becomes more than he ever thought he would be. The same with Sarai; she was shaped by a tragedy that scarred so many, but despite this, she chose compassion and empathy. It wasn’t an easy transition, though, and that journey from hate to kindness had its own set of scars.
Nero was interesting in another way. At first I hated him, and then he surprised me because he wasn’t what I (or Lazlo) expected. I can’t even begin to fathom what he might do next. His crisis of conscience, the seemingly superiority of magic over science, makes me like him even more. His whole identity is based on science; he served that master despite—or because—of his untenable family life. So when suddenly he’s faced with what he feels is the dissolution of this one solid foundation in his life, he stumbles.
While Minya is also a product of her past, she’s repressed all the softer emotions. Her cold, calculating mind juxtaposed against the sweet 6-year-old face is almost too jarring.
The Godslayer is another character that’s neither good or evil, that’s both hero and monster, like Sarai and Lazlo and perhaps even Nero.
These characters beg the question: What is a hero? Can a hero be a monster as well? Is life black and white, or is it steeped in gray. I love these conflicting characters that make the plot so interesting. I heard some reviewers lament the jumping around of different points of view, but I don’t see it that way. One part is from Lazlo’s point of view with the input of some minor characters. One is from Sarai’s point of view with the input of some minor characters. And the last is of both (with more input from minor characters). It moves the plot along while giving you a well-rounded picture of the situations and problems faced.
I love love love the lyrical prose of this book. It’s almost like reading interesting poetry. Laini Taylor uses striking metaphors and paints pictures without resorting to clichés:
“Vengeance ought to be spoken through gritted teeth, spittle flying, the cords of one’s soul so entangled in it that you can’t let it go, even if you try. If you feel it–if you really feel it–then you speak it like it’s a still-beating heart clenched in your fist and there’s blood running down your arm, dripping off your elbow, and you can’t let go.”
You can practically feel the hatred here. Not the greatest feeling, but it so thoroughly describes it. Then there’s the reality of those who have lived through tragedy:
“The world was carnage. You either suffered it or inflicted it.”
It’s also a bit bleak, but oh so descriptive, almost brutally so. However, there’s the beauty of first love:
“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.”
Or one of my personal favorites:
“I turned my nightmares into fireflies and caught them in a jar.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Talk about facing your fears: you turn them into something harmless, even beautiful. Speaking of beauty, here’s the beauty and brutality in courage:
“He looked him right in the eyes and saw a man who was great and good and human, who had done extraordinary things and terrible things and been broken and reassembled as a shell, only then to do the bravest thing of all: He had kept on living, though there are easier paths to take.”
Strange the Dreamer is beautiful and entrancing: stimulating the imagination and summoning the dreamer in all of us. It’s one of those rare books that is beautiful and intricate and interesting, that makes you want to live inside the words and experience the wonders.