Strange the Dreamer was written by Laini Taylor and is due for release later this month. It’s a fantasy epic which tells the story of a young librarian’s quest to discover a legendary city. The novel forms the first part of a duology, though a release date for its concluding part has not yet been announced.
Lazlo Strange has long lived up to his unusual name. Raised by monks, and later finding his calling as librarian in the Great Library of Zosma, he has spent his life ardently researching the myths and folklore that the other scholars sneer at. His goal is to learn all he can about the Unseen City – a place lost to the world years before when its name was stolen from the minds of all who knew of it and replaced with a single word: Weep.
Yet everything changes when the Tizerkane – the legendary army of Weep – come to Zosma. Their leader Eril-Fane – a man known as the Godslayer – is in search of the wisest men in the world. He needs them to solve a problem that has been plaguing Weep, but he will not speak of exactly what that problem entails. Although Lazlo has no skills to offer, he still manages to impress Eril-Fane with his stories and thus secures a job as the Godslayer’s secretary.
Lazlo dreams of discovering all of the mysteries that Weep has to offer, yet everything he finds just raises more questions. Fifteen years previously, something terrible happened in the City – something that gave the Godslayer his title but also left him filled with shame. As a blue-skinned woman begins to appear in Lazlo’s dreams, he slowly starts to put the pieces together. Yet who is this mysterious stranger, and could she possibly be somewhere in Weep?
If you’ve followed my reviews for a while, you’ll be aware that I’m a critical git. I’m not the easiest person to please and I don’t give out glowing reviews without a very good reason. You’ll be happy to hear that this book is deserving of every word of praise that I can give. Strange the Dreamer is not the easiest novel to get into. Its writing is dense and the early chapters are full of exposition. Yet it’s worth it. It’s a novel that rewards readers that persevere. And I loved every minute of it.
Taylor’s language is vivid and poetic, always beautiful and never toeing over that fine line into purple prose. This suits the stunning world that she creates perfectly. The word building in Strange the Dreamer is rich and immersive, throwing the reader into both of Lazlo’s worlds – the reality of Weep and the surreal faerie tale version of it that he sees in his dreams.
While I expect that this book won’t appeal to all fantasy readers, I personally like to feel as though I’m part of the world. I like experiencing strange new places – the unique foods, the customs. Weep is a world where spectral stags roam the streets and the Elixir of Life can be synthesised from the blood of aquatic reptiles. A world where the Gods were once real and walked amongst men, until something happened that caused them to disappear forever. It’s stunning and I just couldn’t get enough of it.
The plot itself is fairly straightforward, but is still wrought with many twists and turns. While the reasoning for Lazlo’s coming to Weep is easy to understand, the true story lies in what he discovers upon arrival. Weep is a city of many mysteries – central to all is just what happened to it fifteen years prior. Although beautiful, Lazlo quickly finds that there is a darkness lurking beneath. The people go about their daily lives in peace but a shadow lies over them in more ways than one. Beneath everything is an overwhelming terror and sense of wrongness, and it’s not long before Lazlo comes to understand exactly why. The blurb of this novel really doesn’t do it any credit – it simply can’t capture the many layers of the story. I’m worried that I’ll also spoil it for you if I continue to witter on, so I’ll just take a moment to reflect on the one thing that I didn’t like: the ending.
When I reached the 80% mark of this book, I started to get worried about how it was going to end. With the final pages in sight, it just didn’t feel as though it was wrapping up. Which is because it wasn’t. I’m really not a fan of novels that end with the words “To Be Continued”. To me, it just feels cheap. Strange the Dreamer was an excellent book. It didn’t have to resort to such measures to ensure that I’d pick up the next one. While this volume did resolve many of the story’s mysteries, it still left some fairly hefty loose ends hanging for the sequel. This is especially annoying as the release date of the next book hasn’t even been announced, so I know it’ll be a long time before I discover what will happen to the characters that I love.
I freely admit that I fell in love with many of the characters in this book. They’re all just so real, each existing as shades of grey. Taylor’s world is one where good people do terrible things. Their motivation for their behaviour is often very sound, but it doesn’t make their actions any less grotesque. Even Minya, who I would happily punt off a balcony, has her reasons for being so unredeemably horrible over the course of the novel. My only real problem was that there were far too many characters for Taylor to focus on them all and so I found myself forgetting who all of the secondary characters were. This wasn’t helped by the fact that they all had very strange fantasy names (Calixte, Mouzaive, Soulzeren) and all but a couple faded from the story once Lazlo met Sarai.
The love story between Lazlo and Sarai dominates the second half of the story, and was very touching and sweet. Although it moves quite quickly (in part due to both of their isolation) it felt like something lifted from a Greek tragedy. It’s the story of two lovers who met in their dreams, able to experience the nocturnal world together but never able to touch and speak with each other during the waking hours. It was touching, beautiful and wonderfully handled. For me, this was just perfect.
Sorry for the short review, but I really don’t want to say anything more for fear of spoilers. Strange the Dreamer was a hard novel to get into but was well worth the effort. Its beautifully written, with both stunning world building and complex characters. I really can’t wait to read about Lazlo’s continuing adventures in the concluding volume.
Strange the Dreamer is due for release on 28th March and is currently available to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk