Muse of Nightmares
by Laini Taylor
In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.
Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice–save the woman he loves, or everyone else?–while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.
As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?
HERE BE SPOILERS
Don’t read this review if you haven’t read Strange the Dreamer
Following directly on from where Strange the Dreamer left off, Muse of Nightmares takes us further into the backstory of Weep as Lazlo, Sarai, the other ‘Godspawn’ and the citizens of Weep try to navigate around the revelations at the explosive end of Strange the Dreamer.
The main reason I was so excited to pick up Muse of Nightmares after I finished Strange the Dreamer in March was because I couldn’t predict what was going to happen. The story we were introduced to is probably one of the oldest stories in fantasy – the story of an orphan boy who discovers he’s more than he first appears – and yet it was told in such a fresh way that I didn’t mind.
So much of Strange the Dreamer focuses on war and the trauma that war causes, and Muse of Nightmares delves deeper into that exploration. While Strange the Dreamer focused on what war does to the survivors who are forced, literally in this case, to live in the shadow of a former conflict, Muse of Nightmares took it a step further to explore villainy and how war can make us all the villain of someone else’s story.
This is something Taylor was already peeling back the layers of in Strange the Dreamer, but in Muse of Nightmares she makes us take a look at the heroes and villains amongst all the players in this sprawling story.
Thyon Nero. Eril-Fane. Minya. Kora and Nova (two new characters whom I adored). At some point or another, they’ve all been hero to some and villain to others. Thyon became a hero in Zosma, but did so off the back of Lazlo’s life work which he didn’t credit him for. Eril-Fane slew infants in their cradles, but did so because their people had been systematically torturing, raping and murdering the citizens of Weep, particularly the women (including himself and his own wife), for years. Minya will stop at nothing to make the citizens of Weep pay for what Eril-Fane did, and yet we can’t help but understand her point of view when we realise that, at 6 years old, she heard him butchering babies she couldn’t save. Kora and Nova have links to the gods themselves, and both of them have been forced into roles of villainy by men who saw subjugation as a hobby.
I flew through this book. The plot was a lot more succinct without all of the world-building needed in the first book, and that absence of world-building allowed Taylor to focus on shedding light on the lore of this world. Who were the gods? And what were they doing with all those babies?
As can be expected, the answers to those questions were heart-breaking. I loved how Taylor took characters we thought we knew, even the ones we already empathised with like Eril-Fane and Minya, and made them even more human. Minya, in particular, was so satisfying to learn more about. She’s a fantastic villain in Strange the Dreamer, but in Muse of Nightmares Taylor would have done her a disservice if she’d made her nothing more than that, and it’s in this book we start to learn just how much she really sacrificed to keep the four babies she managed to save safe.
With the addition of Kora and Nova, who I loved and would have loved to have seen more of, Lazlo and Sarai, and some of the other side characters such as Thyon and Calixte, took a little more of a backseat in this book. Lazlo and Sarai, and their relationship, were still incredibly present, but in this book the series isn’t really about them anymore. It’s about everything that’s happened in Weep since the gods arrived and were eventually killed, and how a place can possibly heal after such a long and recent history of bloodshed.
I would have loved this even more if Taylor had been a bit… braver, for lack of a better word. Considering so much of this duology focuses on war and its aftermath, and does so brilliantly, a lot of characters were just, well, fine.
I don’t want to see characters I love die, we never want to lose the people we love even when they’re fictional, but this book could have been a 5 star read for me if it had been more bittersweet. I think I would have found it more believable, considering the horrors in Weep’s past, for fewer people to have survived the events of this book. The ultimate ending, particularly the epilogue, felt a little rushed to me, and because of that I’m still not entirely sure if it was a completely satisfying ending. I needed something more.
All that said, I still think this is a brilliant story. There’s so much lush world-building and folklore in this duology and I really appreciate that Taylor didn’t try and stretch this tale into a trilogy with a pointless middle book. To me Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares read like two parts of one super long fantasy epic rather than two separate volumes, and I love that about them.
Whatever Taylor writes next I’ll definitely be interested in checking it out!