- Series: Strange the Dreamer (Book 1)
- Paperback: 560 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (May 22, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316341673
- ISBN-13: 978-0316341677
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 434 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Strange the Dreamer Paperback – May 22, 2018
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From the Publisher
"Laini Taylor is so damn good and like no other."―Leigh Bardugo, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom
"Laini Taylor set my imagination on fire so hard that it spontaneously combusted...This is the kind of story that paves dreams."― Roshani Chokshi, author of The Star Touched Queen
"[A] must-read YA!"― USA Today
"Part adventure novel, part romance and part exercise in epic myth-building, it's gorgeously written and full of surprises."―NPR
"[One of] our favorite books of the year!"― Popsugar
"An epic world of gods, moths and nightmares; a world where the dream chooses the dreamer."― Justine Magazine
"Weighty as a nightmare and as transportive as the finest of fantasy, Laini Taylor's new novel will leave readers with miracles on their minds."― Hypable
* "Gorgeously written in language simultaneously dark, lush, and enchanting, the book will leave readers eager for the next."―Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "...Characters are carefully, exquisitely crafted, the writing is achingly lovely, and the world is utterly real...This is a thing to be savored."―Booklist, starred review
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The male hero is a librarian turned secretary. He’s not physically attractive or muscular. He has a crooked nose, in fact, because it broke after a book fell on it from a library shelf. He’s been cast into a low socioeconomic class, so he’s poor and has no apparent economic prospects. His expertise is fairy tales. His passion is an area of learning that the scholars of his day consider dead. He’s selfless and service-oriented. He can’t help but show concern for others even if they don’t appreciate it or reciprocate. He’s utterly without ego, cooperating instead of competing. His greatest strengths are dreaming and loving. He doesn’t try to dominate any woman or man around him. He isn’t a professional killer, or in a profession that involves killing, or violence, nor is he driven to slay, or even prone to occasional, angry outbursts. He doesn’t drink or roughhouse, or think a great night out involves harassing women at bars. He isn’t trying to become wealthy through some impressive, high-flying career that might not actually accomplish much for the world, the way the novel’s Sisyphean alchemist is. Lazlo, in fact, tries to help another man become wealthy without expecting anything in return, specifically because he knows how much stress the pressure to “succeed” has produced in this acquaintance.
So you should like Lazlo, right? He’s a great guy. He works diligently to protect and advance the bank of scholarship which serves society and provides it with hope. If he’s poor, it’s because others created a class, put him in it, and are trying to keep him there. He’s ever helpful and polite, doesn’t beat anyone or get into fights, and never stabs anyone in the back.
The novel's heroine comes to love this man by entering his dreams. That is to say, she learns who he is on the inside, and discovers that his inner world is far more appealing than her outer one. That’s why their relationship grows into love before they ever physically touch.
Lazlo may be contrasted with the character of his lover’s father, a testosterone-filled warrior who fought bravely for his people, and who committed atrocities in doing so that caused him to be estranged from his own daughter. Outwardly, he appears strong, brave, noble, and heroic, if repressed and a tad rough around the edges. In reality, his past experiences have left him broken and ruined inside. He is a tormented shell of the man he might have been had he approached life in a different way.
This is healthy fare, then, for men thinking about who they are and what their values should be, and for women thinking about interacting with men and what makes for a good man. Wherever you may come down on these matters as a reader, there is plenty to consider, because in the end Lazlo is revealed as a complex person who demonstrates as much genuine heroism as any hero in literature.
Strange the Dreamer is categorized as a young adult novel, but it’s suitable for adults of any age. The lovers are Lazlo and Sarai. Lazlo is the main character, but it did not surprise me to learn that Laini Taylor originally envisioned a different main character for this book, and presumably that was Sarai. Sarai is the daughter of the Goddess of Despair and of a human man whom the goddess raped. The author stresses that one cannot learn about strangers by looking at them; Sarai has the gift of being able to look inside them, and it is this which drives the story, so I can see why Sarai would have made a compelling main character. Personally, I happen to love complex supernatural characters, so I am sure I would have liked that.
But I think Ms. Taylor had to shift the focus more to Lazlo, because some of the most entrancing and beautiful parts of the book take place inside his dreams, where Sarai is a visitor. So instead of focusing on the trials and tribulations of a supernatural being whose existence is altered when an unusual human appears, this is presented more as the story of a man’s gradual self-realization and personal growth.
I can also see why the author expanded the book, which she initially planned as a standalone novel, to a duology; having created a world so beautiful, one would want to allow one's readers to linger in it. That is, after all, one of the reasons why we sometimes choose to read an extended story when we could have watched a two-hour film or seen a television show.
I would advise you not to worry if it initially feels like you’re not following the story. Go with the flow as in a dream, and you'll be rewarded as the events and characters coalesce and the story becomes clearer. Then you won’t want to put the book down.
The novel has a certain Romeo and Juliet-esque quality in that the lovers become progressively divorced from their own societies as they grow closer to one another. There are strong messages about control and freedom; the more certain characters seek to control others, the more rapidly the social orders upon which their control depends erode. This leads to some satisfaction as certain selfish or dysfunctional characters get their comeuppances, but it produces a running tension generated by hatred on both sides which goes unresolved. There are clear messages about the futility of ongoing conflict, war, and hate, as contrasted with the transcendence (and sometimes the tragedy) of love. The author goes out of her way not to trivialize death, and characters do not die for entertainment in this novel. Death has consequences, and the consequences play a major role.
Naturally, dreams also play a major role: When societies collide, whose dreams control? Who dreams whom, and why, and how? This is a “Western society-meets-other society” fantasy, so as I was reading, it called to my mind the Adventures of Esplandián, the myth of El Dorado, and tales of the Fountain of Youth in which Europeans invented fairy tale creatures and fanciful places while pondering life beyond the horizon.
Initially, Lazlo is destined to be a monk, presumably within Christendom, but as he heads east he encounters a polytheistic world. The pantheon there is complicated. Deities have their ups and downs, and strengths and weaknesses. The eastern city is enmeshed in an ancient conflict which seems incapable of resolution. Its populations live in close proximity, but separately, and look upon one other with mutual hostility stemming from horrific events they experienced during early conquests. In this respect the fantasy has a clear basis in reality, providing food for thought and reflection. The neglected city that Lazlo is driven to see for himself has been stricken by the Goddess of Oblivion, who has devoured its name. Now that no one can remember the city's name, its people call it Weep. This resonates with me in the context of colliding cultures, where conquerors have often sought to erase indigenous societies and cast them into oblivion. Again, what happens to the dreams of the invaded?
My favorite quote from this novel encapsulates much of what it is ultimately about: “For what [are people] but the sum of all the scraps of their memor[ies] and experience[s]: a finite set of components with an infinite array of expressions[?]” In Strange the Dreamer, personalities are malleable, dreams are strange, strange is good, and the passions and obsessions that spring from our dreams are our destinies, not our choice.
This book is beautiful. It's like poetry for the novel/fantasy reader. I don't really like poetry, but that is what this is. Taylor writes will such magic and flair, it is impossible to imagine this anything but a magical place. Her use of vocabulary--Strange, Weep, Unseen, Godslayer, godspawn, vengeance--all her words carry such beautiful importance. It's truly a work of art, and I don't say that often. It isn't a book I could read in one sitting because you have to absorb it.
As for the plot... fascinating. She has such an imagination. Her characters have depth. There is all range of human emotions in one, from love to hate, despair to joy... And honestly, the cliff hanger ending is beautifully created, and terrible. So I'm desperate to see how it ends. And hopeful.
STRANGE THE DREAMER is many things. It's a tale of lost cities and a centuries-old clash between gods, their half-blood children, and humankind. It's an ode to libraries, alchemy, and quest stories. It blurs the already-faint lines between dreams, nightmares, and reality. It takes themes such as war, love, knowledge versus power, self-discovery, and "what makes a monster?", then stirs them into an otherworldly concoction with hints of melancholy as blue as the godspawns' skin and the gold shimmer of wonder. It's witty and aching and frightening in parts; and when you finish reading it, part of you doesn't want to leave its absorbing world... and part of you wonders how our poor heroes will find any resolution to their conflicts in next year's sequel.
I'm not sure if I have a favorite character from STRANGE THE DREAMER. There's Lazlo, the titular dreamer, who's kind, intelligent, eager to learn, happy to help, and desperate to know where he came from. And there's Sarai, the Muse of Nightmares, a half-human girl who screams moths at night and is haunted by other people's horrors when she sleeps. And Eril-Fane, the Godslayer who saved the city of Weep fifteen years earlier but is tormented and conflicted by his past. And the other godspawn like the sweet "gardener" Sparrow, the impulsive and (literally) ignitable Ruby, the sobering rain-gatherer Feral... and Minya. The oldest of the godspawn yet trapped in a 6-year-old's body, she binds the ghosts of Weep to do her bidding - and while it's easy to understand her desire to protect her remaining kindred, her hunger for revenge against the city's humans is so relentless and absolute that it chills you to the bone.
What's keeping me from giving STRANGE THE DREAMER 5 stars, though, is the "book of two halves" dilemma. The first half is stunning and well-paced as it introduces readers to her invented world and her large cast of characters. But the second half, despite the gorgeous dream sequence interactions between Lazlo and Sarai, was a bit of a slog. It's overwritten and much too slow, which unfortunately weakens what should be a devastating ending.
In short, I didn't love STRANGE THE DREAMER as much as other Laini Taylor books like DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE or BLACKBRINGER. Yet it's still victorious in showing what a whimsical and incomparable talent Laini Taylor is and the fresh air she continues to inject into YA fantasy. No other writer in that genre is quite like her, and that's why I continue to marvel at her work, one book after the next.