Strange the Dreamer
by Laini Taylor
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?
Welcome to Weep.
Strange the Dreamer is one of those books I never thought I’d get to because when it was first released the marketing campaign was a little too vague for me to care. I don’t like a blurb to give me an essay by any means, but the early blurbs of Strange the Dreamer didn’t seem to say anything at all about what it was actually about and, knowing that it involved dreams, I assumed it was a contemporary fantasy with a dream world.
I’ve always heard how gorgeous Laini Taylor’s writing is, though, so one day I decided to listen to the sample of the audiobook and realised that this isn’t a contemporary fantasy at all, but a high fantasy, and 2018 just so happened to be the year I rediscovered my love for high fantasy. It still took me a while to finish this book because the writing is beautiful but fairly dense, and the plot doesn’t really take off until around 200 pages in, but once it sucked me in I sped through the rest of this novel and I loved it so much more than I initially thought I would.
Lazlo Strange – first of all, how amazing is that name? – is an orphan raised in a monastery before he winds up working in a library where his obsession with fairy tales and the lost city of Weep escalates. Lazlo knows deep in his soul that Weep’s true name was stolen and that the city is still out there somewhere. His hard work finally pays off when he seizes the chance to go there on an expedition to help the city, and that’s all I want to say about the plot because I think uncovering the story as it unfolds is far more rewarding.
Taylor’s writing is absolutely stunning. I’d really recommend the audiobook, actually, because her writing comes alive and the audiobook also uses a brief piece of music from time to time when Lazlo sees a particular creature that really adds to the atmosphere. On a more personal level I’m also glad I started with the audiobook and then moved to the paperback because, as lovely as Taylor’s writing is, she takes three pages to say something she could have said in one. If I’d attempted the paperback from the beginning I probably would have DNF’d this book while waiting for the plot to start, whereas the audiobook, narrated by Steve West, kept hold of my attention.
What I ended up loving so much about Strange the Dreamer is that it’s simply a brilliant story. This novel reminded me of the fantasy stories I used to adore as a child, with down-on-their-luck heroes and magical lands and a quest, but at the same time it’s a very mature novel. There’s so much in here about the aftermath of war, and particularly about the way people from opposite sides of a conflict view each other even when the conflict itself has been over for years. Taylor has a lot to say about whether or not we should blame children for the sins of their parents and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking and so well executed.
I also just adore Lazlo. He so easily could have been a stereotypical ‘nice guy’, but he isn’t. He feels like a real boy, but while he loves stories and he’s kind and he’s something of a self-taught scholar, he’s also got a brilliant sense of humour. I desperately wish he was my brother. Mainly so he could reach things off high shelves for me.
Sarai, our other protagonist, is also wonderful. It took me a little longer to warm up to her because we know Lazlo so much longer and I couldn’t quite place her at first, but once Taylor lets you into her world and her story she’s such a lovely character and I only want good things for her. I was initially a little sceptical of her inevitable relationship with Lazlo, too, for two reasons: firstly, I thought Lazlo actually had quite a bit of chemistry with another man, a scholar, who is kind of awful but their relationship is super interesting; and secondly, I’d seen a few reviews already that warned that Lazlo and Sarai’s relationship is fairly instalove-y.
Having read it myself, I would have to agree, BUT I would also say that it actually really works here. And that’s not something I say often because I usually hate instalove. This novel reads like a fairy tale of its own, though, and Lazlo and Sarai are such kindred spirits that their relationship makes sense.
This book was very nearly a five star read for me. I loved its characters and the world and the story itself – the world-building is brilliant and the way Taylor slowly reveals chapters in the stories of the other people Lazlo meets is fantastic, not to mention its inclusion of possibly one of the best YA villains I’ve come across in a while – but I do think there were times when the pacing suffered. For the most part this is a book written by a master storyteller, but there were times when I thought Taylor could get to certain points in the story quicker.
That being said, this book is a very high four stars indeed, I loved it so much more than I was expecting to and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. Clearly duologies are my thing, so I can’t wait to read Muse of Nightmares!