Monday, March 6, 2017

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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!

Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!


  1. I AM SO EXCITED WHEN I RECEIVED MY ARC FROM THE PUBLISHER BUT I HAVE YET TO READ IT! Hopefully I can around to it soon because Laini's writing is just too pretty!!! Such a lovely and detailed review

    xx Anisha @ Sprinkled Pages

  2. The wait for this one has been really long. Great review!

  3. I'm really looking forward to reading this, especially now that you mention that fans of The Night Circus should enjoy it. I loved everything about that book.

  4. I tried to read this one, but it wasn't working for me. I usually struggle with slow prose like Laini's. I'm glad that it wound up being such a surprising book for you. Hopefully, the sequel will be just as amazing.
    Great review, Alyssa!

  5. I can't wait to read this. I just ordered the UK edition because I love that cover so much more than the US. I'm a huge Taylor fan and anyone who thinks her books start out slow and boring needs to slow down themselves! Stories aren't all about fast action and immediate gratification, people! Awesome review, Alyssa:-)

  6. I have heard a lot of great things about this one. I can't wait to read it. I am glad to know that it does start off a little slow, but you actually need that information to get the complete book. Sometimes the slow start can make me not want to read a book. Great review!

  7. Extremely helpful review!
    And your reading Toward A Secret Sky, which I have from NG and been meaning to read! I hope it's a good one 🤞.

  8. This is a very helpful review. I've only read the first book in Taylor's other series, and loved it. I haven't picked up her other books yet, but feel like I want to do this one. Great review!

  9. That's really good to know that this takes some time to set the scene. I'm usually a patient reader, but this is good for me to keep in mind!

  10. Great review! It's helpful too know that it has a slower beginning but is still a great story. I usually try to give books anywhere between 30-50% before I completely give up on them. I don't DNF too many books tho, usually I muscle my way thru them even if I'm not enjoying it. lol! I'm a glutton for punishment, I guess. I am glad to hear that you ended up loving this one. It sounds really good

  11. I've only read Daughter of Smoke & Bone, which I liked but I hadn't felt like continuing the books for some reason. But I would read this one. It sounds amazing! Great review, Alyssa! :D

  12. I love this author (I'm a huge fan of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series), and it sounds as though I'm going to fall in love with this story as well. I don't mind putting in some effort with a slower paced beginning - especially if the pay off is a good one, and it certainly sounds like it is. I'm ready to be left speechless! Thanks for the great review, Alyssa!

  13. Not going to lie, I am one of those people who DNFed at page 100-something. I just.. did not care about anything, and wasn't attached to any of the characters. I feel that 200 pages into a 500 page book is too much time to spend on details, no matter how important, if you can't do it in a non-boring way. I am glad that you enjoyed it though! Maybe I'll revisit this book via audiobook someday, since I find I have an easier time listening to details and descriptions that way :)

    Brittany @ Brittany's Book Rambles

  14. I have never read Laini Taylor. I know that I need to change that. I am glad you liked this one. I hope to read this one but I will keep in mind that it starts out slow.

  15. I haven't read another review for this one, but that's sad people are DNFing because it's too slow in the beginning. I wonder if they read any of her other work? It seems like a trademark of her writing, but I've only read the Smoke&Bone books. Regardless, I LOVE them and I'm so excited for this one!

  16. I can't wait to read this! Actually, I have plans to listen to the audio, so hopefully my format choice will help with the slower start. I really enjoyed her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, I'm excited to see what she has in store for us in this one.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

  17. I'm so looking forward to reading this! Have you seen the other cover for the book? A gorgeous blue one *heart eyes* I haven
    t actually read any of her books and I so wanna read Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy too!


  18. I didn't read too much of your review, mostly because I kind of want to go into this one without knowing anything about the plot. But the phrase "strange and dense and incredible" is giving me life, and I just know I'm going to really enjoy it! Taylor's writing in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy was on point, so I'm happy to hear that this one is also written beautifully.

  19. Ahhh :D I'm SO glad that you loved this book Alyssa. <3 Yesss. I want it badly. Just waiting for my pre-order copy to arrive :) I need. So so glad you loved it. So curious. Yay for good romance :D Sounds awesome.

  20. Ohh amazing review Alyssa. I heard amazing things about Laini Taylor's books and I just read the swoon scene that you posted. And I really love her very beautiful writing style. I really need too check out her books soon. Plus I absolutely loved uprooted which yes it was a slow world building book but I didn't mind it I was so engrossed in that book that I couldn't put it down. Now if strange the dreamer is some what like uprooted. I have a really good feeling that I will totally and utterly love this book! Thank you so much for the great post Alyssa.

  21. Alyssa, you are so lucky! I want to be you!
    I CAN'T wait to read this book! I already love Lazlo just because of you.
    *dies* it sounds so amazing!


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