“‘Dream up something wild and improbable…Something beautiful and full of monsters.”
Laini Taylor, the author of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series and the National Book Award finalist Lips Touch: Three Times, creates a captivating and original world full of complicated characters, immense dreams, and too-real nightmares in her new book Strange the Dreamer.
The first book in a planned duology, Strange the Dreamer opens with Lazlo Strange. Strange because he is a war orphan and his birth name is unknown. But different because of his intense love of stories and fairy tales, his penchant for dreaming, and his lifelong fascination with a mysterious ancient city, whose name was lost. Or more specifically, stolen. You see, Lazlo has a very specific memory of the day when that name was erased from his mind, from everyone’s mind, and replaced with a word: Weep.
As Lazlo makes his way from a subdued life with the monks to an apprenticeship as a librarian, his passion for stories, and his obsession with Weep, truly take over. He spends his adolescent years obsessing over books and notes about Unseen City (as he calls it), searching for any scrap of knowledge, any reference to its people, cultures, and of course, its name, while the rest of the world forgets and moves on. However, when Lazo’s dream suddenly comes to him, in the form of Tizarkane soldiers seeking experts from different fields, (scholars, builders, and a beautiful, arrogant alchemist) to ride with them to Weep and solve an unexplained mystery of the city, he cannot let the chance pass him by, and jumps at the chance to travel to his dreamland and finally learn its secrets. However traveling to dreams and learning hard truths can have unexpected effects on a person…
In a parallel narrative, a young woman spends her days hidden away with her family, trapped and protected by their isolation from the rest of the city. Sari knows that they must remain hidden to stay safe, but her anger towards those that would hurt her is fading into understanding, and she begins to wonder what kind of life this isolation truly is.
The writing in this novel is exquisite. Somehow, Taylor manages to weave the language of dreams into her sentences without entering the realm of purple prose. While some have commented that the book’s plot was a bit slow moving, the intricacy and the poetry of Taylor’s words is so gorgeously atmospheric that I was instantly tra
nsported to a world where beauty lies hidden in everything. I wanted to know what would happen next, but I was also perfectly happy just being a part of this world for a while. And still, interlaced with this beauty, is a history of war and trauma with no winner and a brokenness that seeps beyond the confines of the ruined buildings.
Lazlo’s innocence and sincerity and compassion are achingly heartwarming. Too perfectly so? Maybe. But I loved him and wouldn’t change a thing! The cast of characters that surround him though, are wonderfully complex. The “villains,” the problematic question of even deciding who truly is the villain in this broken world, are people who have been through terrible things and had to make difficult choices, and sometimes they chose wrong. The love story too (because there’s always a love story), is beautifully unfolded, touching on the desperate need for tenderness in one’s life and the small ways that we learn to find intimacy and share ourselves with others.
All that being said, I am a bit nervous for the sequel. The last act of the book moves incredibly quickly and sets up favorite characters to potentially change dramatically from what the entire book has worked to show them as. However, I await it EAGERLY and can’t wait to see what will happen!