Sunday, 23 April 2017

Strange the Dreamer

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?

I knew I was going to love this book. Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy remains one of my ultimate favourite fantasy series, and with the book blurb promising a story of epic libraries and godspawn. Strange the Dreamer is unlike anything I've ever read. It's epic. It's beautiful. It's a fantastic tale of gods and dreamers, of love and hate, of living and existing. And it's written like pure poetry.

The story itself seems somewhat thin for the thickness of the book, as orphan Lazlo is given the opportunity to travel to the lost city he's been dreaming of since childhood, only to discover a lost city shrouded in darkness and still suffering the fallout from a bitter battle between mysterious, blue-skinned gods and the humans they treated like slaves/brood mares to create godspawn children. The gods are believed to be long dead, killed by the humans they once enslaved, but their floating castle still hovers over Weep, and those still scarred by their treatment want it gone. The only problem is, the uninhabited castle isn't quite as uninhabited as everyone thinks.

The story may be easy to describe, but the writing, the world-building, the characters . . . I'd have to be a writer of Laini Taylor's calibre to do them justice. From Lazlo's days spent in an enormous library to surviving godspawn Sarai's sort of siblings, each with their own unique ability, everything jumps off the page. I completely adored Lazlo, but just like with DoSaB, the female half of the central pairing is easily the best character. Half-god, half-human Sarai is the Muse of Nightmares, able to travel through the night via a hundred moths, visiting dreams on people and getting a peek at a world she longs to be part of. Both long for something more, even if they're not sure what that something is, and both live through dreams, be it their own or someone elses. If you're looking for action, there's very little here, but there's something about these characters and how they see their own worlds, and each others, that draws you in and will not let you go.

I didn't quite buy the relationsip between Sarai and Lazlo, at least not in the same way I felt the passion and connection of Karou and Akiva in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I certainly felt what drew them to each other, but it didn't seem entirely enough for them to turn their backs on their worlds for each other. The only problem I have with Laini Taylor's writing is that it's almost too good. The scenes between Sarai and Lazlo are written in the same dreamy prose and and lush, vivid imagery that everything else is written in, from the gods graveyards to interactions betweem Lazlo and his library master. It means that their brief scenes don't carry any more weight than anyone else's, so, as incredible as they were, I didn't quite believe that the pair were star-crossed lovers or soul mates or anything like that. Laini Taylor does an absolutely incredible (and cringeworthingly accurate from what I remember!) job of describing teenage infatuation and emerging sexuality, but while Sarai's fellow godspawn Ruby and Feral's relationship is painted as just that, Sarai's and Lazlo's is clearly meant to be deeper, but it's written in exactly the same way.

Speaking of Ruby and Feral, Sarai's sort of brothers and sisters were truly wonderful. Far from their monsterous parents, they're little more than naive children hovering high above a world they don't understand. All stolen from the nursery as babies to save them from the Godslayer's wrath, they've lived in isolation since birth and are just now contending with what they're missing and what awaits them in the future. From firestarter Ruby's sexual experimentation to plant-growing Sparrow's breathtaking naivety, it's hard to see them as anything like the monsters that sired them. Except for the spiteful, ghost-controlling Minya. Creepy little girls are the worst, and I constantly read Minya as having long, dark hair like that kid from The Ring. But although Minya may be the closest thing this story has to a clear-cut villain, even she's been shaped by the horrors of her past. She may be bitter and vindictive, but there are reasons behind her actions, a sort of method behind her almost madness.

Eril-Fane, the Godslayer, was a wonderful character, and only got better and the author peeled away the legend to show the man behind the legend, a man bitter and scarred after years of abuse from the gods. His relationship with his wife, Azareen, such as it remained after both were stolen away to be "consorts", was horrific in its tragedy. As with DoSaB, Laini Taylor doesn't shy away from showing the last effects of attrocities that people commit and have commited against them. Be warned, there's a lot of mentions of and allusions to rape in this book, both male and female, that even I found uncomfortable at times, and I'm not easily rattled. There's nothing graphic and certainly nothing sexual about it, but the cruel, unfiltered reality of betrayal, abuse and violation is disturbing to say the least.

The ending was something of a let down compared to the sweeping epic story that had come before it, with things feeling a bit rushed and long-absent characters reappearing all of a sudden. The twist ending was pretty obvious from about a third of the way in, and there are a lot of unanswered questions which are presumably being saved for the next book. But Laini Taylor's writing style is what makes her books so special. She can take a simple act, like Lazlo cataloguing books in the library, and turn it into the most beautiful thing you'll ever read. While I personally found the story a little bit lacking, the way it was told made it incredible.

1 comment:

  1. I’m glad you liked the book, even if it did have some issues. I’m on a waiting list for this one. I can’t wait to read it. I haven’t read any Laini Taylor books yet.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!