I think I’m a little bit in love with Laini Taylor. She doesn’t just write fantasy; she writes bold, expressive, character-driven fantasy, with sentence after beautifully-crafted sentence building rich and complex worlds that demand to be explored. I absolutely adored the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, which made Laini Taylor my favourite fantasy discovery of 2016 (well, it’s a toss-up between her and Brandon Sanderson but it’s a very close competition). When the proof of Strange the Dreamer showed up at work (which is stunning for a proof, by the way, with sprayed edges and everything!), I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast – I snatched it up and had it in my bag before anyone had a chance to see what it was! Let me just tell you that I wasn’t very far into it before I realised that she really had outdone herself – it was even better than her previous trilogy.
Lazlo Strange is an orphan of a distant war growing up in a bleak monastery. His only escape is the stories told to him by an elderly monk of a far-flung city, rich and beautiful beyond his wildest dreams. Until one day, he tries to speak the city’s name, as he has done hundreds of times before – and finds that he cannot remember it. All he can say is “Weep”. Becoming a librarian’s apprentice so that he can pore over the mystery of the “Forgotten City” in the University library’s myriad books, he searches for years without success – until the city’s inhabitants, who have not been seen in these lands for many years, show up at the University begging for the expertise of the best and brightest minds to come to their aid – but they refuse to say what for. Lazlo’s knowledge of the city, gleaned through years of study, earns him a place on the expedition, which will take him on an epic journey of discovery and lead him to question everything he has ever known and believed.
I was drawn into this story from the very first page (helped along by a rather explosive and instantly gripping prologue) and it didn’t let me go until I set it down a couple of days later, feeling sad at how long I would have to wait to complete the duology (I’m just going to say CLIFFHANGER CENTRAL). My first thought was how unique this book was in a vast sea of fantasy writing. I have read many adult fantasy series, most of which feature the battle of unquestionable good against the forces of darkness and evil. Laini Taylor however, ultimately chronicles wars of people against people – she did it with the eternal battle between the chimaera and the seraphim in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and she’s done it again in Strange the Dreamer. Both sides have committed terrible atrocities; both sides are made up of individuals, human or otherwise, who are vulnerable, terrified, angry, damaged, grieving. The dual perspectives both of Lazlo and Sarai, a blue-skinned goddess stranded high above the city of Weep after the humans decimated her family fifteen years before, enable Taylor to explore an infinitely rich web of emotions in each of her characteristically subtle and exquisitely written chapters. What becomes clear is that no character is completely guilty, nor completely blameless.
The world and magic of Strange the Dreamer is wonderfully crafted, stunningly described and absolutely compulsive. The plot development is perfectly paced and the concept of the gods and their system of magic is nothing short of masterful. As for the descriptions of the city, I don’t have a great imagination but I know exactly what Weep looks like in my mind’s eye. It provides a fantastic background for the story that plays out both on its streets and high above. But, as I have touched on before, where Laini Taylor really shines is in the construction of her characters. Of course, I am referring particularly to the central characters of Lazlo and Sarai, and the growing relationship between them. I am a bit of a self-confessed cynic and typically struggle with the unrealistically perfect and instant love that can spring up between two characters, which is a consistent and rather irritating trope of YA fantasy in particular. In Strange the Dreamer, however, I felt that the relationship went past the simple boy meets girl scenario, with a realism that I have felt to be lacking in other series. But I’m not only talking about this central relationship. Each character is profoundly complex, with their own flaws and strengths, motivations and objectives. I particularly liked (or at least enjoyed the exploration of) the character of Thyon, whose arrogance and selfishness conceals deep insecurity and a need to prove himself.
If you have read the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, you will love this. If you have read nothing of Laini Taylor’s, you’d better get started. Seriously, you don’t know what you’re missing. By the way, commiserations to everybody who has now read Strange the Dreamer and is settling down to a long wait. I’m right there with you. But for those who still have it all ahead: Welcome to Weep.
Star Rating: 5/5