Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor


Muse rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Honestly, I can’t get this book out of my head for the life of me. After ordering it way back in April of last year, it was originally set to be published in the fall, but it was pushed back to March, aka a few weeks ago, so I’m just getting my hands on it after an entire. Year. Of. Waiting.

Laini Taylor is one of my favorite authors, possibly ever in the long history of my life as a reader. Her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is literally the reason I moved to Prague to begin with, so her work has already made a lasting imprint on my life, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Strange the Dreamer is a tale of Lazlo Strange, an orphan who gets sent to live in a monastery, and due to a stroke of luck and some bad fish, escapes to a library, where he’s taken on as an apprentice. He studies Weep, the Unseen City, which was lost to hearts and minds fifteen years ago, which Strange felt be plucked from his head and destroyed, leaving behind only the word Weep as a replacement name for the city. It becomes his mission to find out what became of the city, and what manner of magic erased an entire legendary city from existence, even affecting written language, reducing it to nothing more than myth and fancy. And everywhere, the singular word proving its downfall: Weep.

This is also a tale of war and genocide, and of accountability and forgiveness, and where to draw the line between it and hatred. The mirror to Lazlo’s story is Sarai’s, daughter of a goddess who once wreaked havoc on the people of Weep, and who would want her dead for her mother’s treachery – if they knew of her existence, and of the hidden life she leads. Sarai is a dreamwalker of sorts, and her inherited magic from her mother is to be able to slip into the minds of dreamers and change their dreams to whatever she wants. For years she twisted the dreams of the people of Weep into terrible nightmares, such that the citizens tremble at the sight of her home, one of the last remining visible reminders of the torture they suffered at the gods’ hands. But Sarai doesn’t want to hurt people anymore, much to her sister’s chagrin,  whose only interest in regards to the people of Weep is vengeance.

This is a story of the question of morality: after two hundred years of torture, rising up and tearing your oppressors down is warranted, isn’t it? And what of the survivors of that tearing-down? Have they no right to their hatred? These are the kinds of questions the characters and the narrative grapple with. And it isn’t over: there will be another book. Soon, I hope. We are left at the end with a solemn TO BE CONTINUED.

Laini Taylor has a long-held, extraordinarily well-deserved reputation for dreamlike storytelling and seamless worldbuilding, and honestly I couldn’t gush about her writing enough for how it has always, always moved me. I read this book all in one sitting, the very same day I got it. And I was not disappointed after my yearlong wait. Reading Strange the Dreamer is like falling in love for the first time, a sensation I did not expect to fall into when opening the cover. Of course, the main character escapes a boring life to live in a library and is (more or less) accepted there – of course a book lover would fall in love with it. But that’s not what I mean. The love between Lazlo and his quest, and between the characters, is just so heart-achingly real to me that I can’t help but still be enveloped in it all this time later.

You know those books that just stay with you for a long time? This has probably moved very quickly toward the top of my list.


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