Strange the Dreamer: A Pleasant Surprise

the aftermath of a war between gods and men.
a mysterious city stripped of its name.
a mythic hero with blood on his hands.
a young librarian with a singular dream.
a girl every bit as dangerous as she is in danger.
alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

I don’t think I have ever seen a teaser that contains more of my buzz words. Done right this story could be my jam. Still, I was a little apprehensive going into this book.

I read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series and didn’t love it. It had all the elements of a story I should love, but almost everywhere it attempted to engage me I was not engaged. There were too many words, too many pining passages between the main characters, too many solutions to problems coming out of nowhere. Reading that series was an enormous chore with too few rewards.

Luckily for Strange the Dreamer, everywhere it attempted to engage me, I was engaged. Gods, fairytales, magic, horror, hate, human nature, and hope are all bound up in perfect package.

Strange the Dreamer starts off with a diabolical bang: a main character is killed off in the prologue. And if you’re going, ‘how can that be, a prologue that skips to the end, doesn’t that defeat the very definition of a prologue?’ I’ll admit, yeah, it’s a little weird. But Sarai, the character who dies, is left a mystery for the first quarter of the novel, and by the time you meet her you’ve more or less forgotten the odd prologue. And if you do happen to remember it, it makes you wonder what leads her to such a gruesome end.

The story follows Lazlo Strange, a young librarian who dreams of the day when he might be able to visit the mythical city of Weep. Then one day a delegation comes rolling into town, asking for volunteers to help the city solve a mysterious problem.

Lazlo has no idea what he’ll find when he reaches the Unseen City but he jumps at the chance, and little does he know that what he learns about the city and learns about himself will change his entire world.

The plot of Strange the Dreamer is straightforward compared to Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Lazlo and his fellow travelers have a clear goal that all of the characters are trying to accomplish and there are clear things that needs to happen for them to achieve that goals. This keeps the story from meandering like her Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, thankfully. And while Strange the Dreamer is a prime example of Taylor’s prosaic writing style, the fairytale motif of the novel does a lot to naturalize the long, raw, descriptive language. Sure, the book is still a little wordy, but I didn’t find myself tempted to skip long passages to get to the plot as I needed to do in Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

Of all Taylor’s characters, Lazlo Strange is the strongest. A dreamer whose nose was broken by fairytales. Lazlo is the epitome of a dreamer, with an innocence, sense of wonder, and kindness about him that is hard to forget. He is charming not only to the characters of book, but to the readers as well, and that can be a hard thing to achieve.

And for a book about gods and monsters, there is a surprising lack of cut and dry villains. Miniya is the character with the most looming propensity for villainy. She and many of the other characters from Weep are unable to move forward, sometimes literally as well as metaphorically, from a horrific past. (After all, if time heals all wounds, how can time heal Miniya’s wounds if time does not pass for her?) If someone is ever looking for an essay topic (which I know EVERYONE always is) there is one in here about colonialism and how it scars both the colonised and the coloniser.

There is so much to love in Strange the Dreamer, including the fairytales that pepper the story and work on so many levels, from worldbuilding to spice. In what is becoming a trend in YA literature by the likes of Leigh Bardugo and Melissa Albert, Taylor could easily publish an independent book of fairytales that originated in this story.

One thing certainly becomes clear from reading Strange the Dreamer: Laini Taylor is eternally preoccupied with angels and demons and star-crossed lovers. It seems to be her personal theme. But Strange the Dreamer fits her storytelling style far better than anything else she has written. It is the most svelte and the most straightforward of any of her plots and is a stronger book because of it. If you were on the fence about her other series, I suggest giving Strange the Dreamer a chance. There is a lot to unpack in the characters, themes, and in the narrative.

Strange the Dreamer asks a lot of questions and not all of them are answered in this book. I guess that leaves me looking forward to the sequel, and I am glad I can finally say I like a Laini Taylor book.

Other notes: I have a sneaking suspicion that Strange the Dreamer takes place in the same universe as Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Summary
Even if you didn't love her other series I would recommend giving Strange the Dreamer a try. The story has a unique plot, memorable characters, and dream-like and intense writing style. Plus, I think it makes room for a length discussion about colonization.
Good
  • Clear and interesting plot
  • Lovely and dream-like writing style
  • Fascinating themes on colonization
  • Complicated villain
  • Unique worldbuilding
Bad
  • Can be a little description heavy
7.8
Good
Plot - 8
Characters - 8
Setting - 8
Writing Style - 8
Enjoyability - 7
Written by
I graduated with a BA in English and minors in Film, Women Studies, and Religion and Culture. I adore fantasy and sci-fi, especially when it comes to the YA section, but that doesn't mean I don't read anything else. When I'm not reading, I'm writing, biking, taking my dog for long walks or watching anime.

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