Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Book One of the Strange the Dreamer series
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
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 to 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?
In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.
Welcome to Weep.
What I Liked:
It's a fairly rare occurrence, for me to be at a loss for words. I'm not the type of person who has a difficult time articulating her thoughts and opinions. But this book... this book has left me speechless. It's one of those uncommon books that are strange and dense and incredible, and I honestly don't know how I'm going to write this review. It's definitely a book that you should try for yourself, rather than take the opinions of others.
Lazlo Strange is an orphan, raised in an abbey, and then apprenticed as a junior librarian. His dream has always been to discover more about the lost city of Weep, and to go there one day - if it exists. And yet the day comes when a delegation from Weep arrives, and calls for talented individuals to join them on a journey back to Weep, to solve a problem that has befallen Weep. Lazlo has only ever dreamed of Weep, and now, thanks to the kindness of the Godslayer himself, he will be able to see the city for himself. But what happened to Weep two hundreds years ago, that made the city virtually disappear from records? And what happened fifteen years ago, when the Godslayer earned his name? And... what happened for the Godslayer and others from Weep to seek help from engineers and alchemists, to solve a problem not yet known to Lazlo? The Weep Lazlo is about to discover is not the Weep of his dreams.
It's been a while since I've read a Taylor book, but this new book has made me fall in love with her writing and her storytelling all over again. I loved the Smoke & Bone books, and while I haven't read any of her other books, I'm quite invested in Taylor's work. Strange the Dreamer has been a much-anticipated book for me, despite me not knowing much about it, initially.
I've seen many people complain of how slow the story starts, which made them put the book down. The story does move slowly at first, but I think that's a trademark of Taylor's storytelling. She is an expert at piecing together a story, a dream, a world, without giving all of the information at first. She excels at scattering pieces and putting them together. I love following the breadcrumbs and trying to guess what will be revealed. I didn't mind feeling confused initially, or throughout the story, because I knew Taylor would reveal so much, as the story went on.
Taylor's writing is so beautiful. If a reader says nothing else about the book, he/she must agree that the writing of this story is incredible. Vivid imagery, descriptive comparisons, and such detailed, dreamy passages that make you want to fall right into this unseen world. As the story went on, I found myself more invested and more immersed, due in no small part to Taylor's amazing writing.
I've already talked a little about how much I love her storytelling, but let me tell you about the story. At first the story does seem slow, and possibly boring. It starts with Lazlo's life in the abbey, and then in the Great Library. It's about one hundred pages into the story when Lazlo actually begins his journey to Weep. And it's nearly two hundred pages into the story when Lazlo actually reaches Weep. Slow going, right? But it's so necessary, to know and understand Lazlo and just how important he is to the story. He's not just the protagonist - he is the weaver of his dream, and of this story.
I adored Lazlo from the start. We read from his third-person POV. Lazlo is a quiet and unselfish boy who grows up into a quiet and unselfish man, a man who likes books and loves to dream. He has written volumes on Weep, because he is pretty obsessed with this Unseen City. Lazlo is twenty years old and quickly becoming a hermit before he goes to Weep with the Godslayer and the others. You can really see his physical transformation (he has never spent so much time outdoors), but also his mental transformation. Lazlo is so kind and thoughtful, unselfish and hardworking. He isn't a physical man or a warrior, but rather, a dreamer and an intellectual and a quiet soul. I suppose he isn't YA's traditional definition of "swoony" or "book boyfriend", but he is swoony and attractive in many other ways, which makes me like him even more.
There is another character who has great significance in the story. Sarai is a godspawn who survived, and is hiding with four other godspawn in Weep. No one must know that they are there, else they be killed immediately. We get to read Sarai's third-person POV occasionally, though not nearly as often as we get Lazlo's. Which is fine - this book is more about Lazlo than it is about Sarai, though the destiny of the two quickly become intertwined. Sarai used to be filled with vengeance, but now she is filled with sorrow and regret and longing.
Lazlo and Sarai meet more than halfway into the story, and even then, they don't really meet. Sarai has the power to enter a person's dreams, and somehow, Lazlo sees her in his dreams and is actually aware of her. They communicate in his dreams several times, and he is never afraid of her (like most humans would be). They are strangers, but they are fascinated with the other. Trust and friendship grows quickly, as two lonely people reach toward each other. I loved seeing them form a strong bond over dreams (yes, eventually they meet outside of dreams, in real life).
There is romance in this book and you can probably imagine between whom. Lazlo and Sarai are the primary couple and they are wonderful together. Their romance is sweet and innocent. There are other characters who have their own romances, but there are no love triangles or cheating or weird aspects of any of the romances that would taint any of them.
I will say that there are some aspects of this book that are horrifying and heartbreaking - things that happened in the past, that Lazlo discovers about Weep and some of the people living in Weep. Some of the aspects are gruesome and so, so heartbreaking, and I had a hard time reading and processing some of the things that happened. If you want to know, feel free to email me. The inclusion of these aspects adds to the cruel and horrifying past of the Weep, and the terrible things that gods did to humans, and humans to gods. Taylor uses a phrase to describe the situation perfectly:
"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." (ARC, 412)
So, be aware that there are some really heartbreaking, cruel, and terrible parts of Weep's history, and its present. Taylor's storytelling is amazing, even if it is heartbreaking.
The ending really creeps up on you! The climax is incredibly delayed, and it occurs in several parts. But the actual ending... I'm shocked and a little bereft. It's not a horrible ending, but it is a surprising ending. One part involving Lazlo, I half-expected. The bigger part of the ending, I did not quite expect. I am really looking forward to seeing how Taylor pulls the story out of this cliffhanger!
What I Did Not Like:
This isn't necessarily a dislike of my own, but I've seen many complaints about how the book starts off really slowly. I've seen reviewers on Goodreads give up and give this book a DNF rating/review. Friends, the first one hundred pages or so are somewhat slow, maybe even boring, on the surface. But they are one hundred necessary pages, and the slow world-building of the non-Weep setting is so vital to the story. Just keep chugging along! Know that things start to get incredibly intriguing around the two-hundred-page mark (perhaps about twenty to thirty pages before that).
Would I Recommend It:
If you like dense, rich fantasy novels, this is definitely one for you. Think of how the Smoke & Bone books were written, or a book like The Night Circus, or Uprooted, or The Queen of the Tearling series. Slow-moving fantasy novels that are also so incredible and mind-blowing and engrossing. Strange the Dreamer is nothing short of mesmerizing and captivating. I highly recommend it to fantasy readers, and I definitely appreciate Taylor's nod to readers in general. I love a book written about a book lover, and Lazlo is a thousand times the book lover I am!
4.5 stars. Perhaps I'll round up, though for now I'm rounding down because I'm particular about that 5-star rating. I understand now, why the author wanted/needed seven more months with this book (remember, the original publication date was September 27th, 2016). And I am so glad for the delay! I really hope book two will be here sooner rather than later though. That ending has ruined my heart for all other stories!
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