I read and really enjoyed Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, but this book was far superior in every way. The characters, the plot, the setting, and the romance were captivating. The writing itself was among some of the most exquisite I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.
Here, captured between covers, was the history of the human imagination, and nothing had ever been more beautiful, or fearsome, or bizarre.
I won’t get into the plot too much, because I don’t want to spoil such a well-crafted story. But I will say that it had just the right amount of complexity. It was incredibly engrossing, but never got convoluted in any way. I was never thrown out of the story by a random twist or plot device. Everything Laini wrote made perfect sense. And every new bit of information given compels you to keep reading. There was just enough foreshadowing to soften the blows of the major plot twists without spoiling those twists beforehand. The plotting was deftly handled.
Lazlo Strange is one of the most endearing characters I’ve ever come across in fiction. Despite a hard start in life, he is incredibly imaginative and almost violently optimistic. It’s no wonder that everyone in his life calls him Strange the Dreamer. His outlook on life has earned him that title. And his growth from boy to man, from Dreamer to doer throughout the novel is some of the greatest character development I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve read countless books since I was a child. And out of all of them, if I could pluck one character from their story and place them in our reality, it would be Lazlo Strange. The would be no end to how powerfully such a dreamer could positively impact our world. He’s the fictional character I would most love to meet and form a friendship with.
Horizons instead of books. Riding instead of reading. It was a different life out here, but make no mistake: Lazlo was every bit the dreamer he had always been, if not more. He might have left his books behind, but he carried all his stories with him, out of the glave-lit nooks of the library and into landscapes far more fit for them.
Sarai was, while not quite as endearing as Lazlo, just as entrancing. She was stunning. Her physical description along with the manifestation of her “gift” was breathtaking. I have never in my life been so enamored with blue skin and velvety moths and the color of cinnamon. Hers was a life of scantness and hardship amidst beauty mingled with despair. As with Lazlo, Sarai grew tremendously, in spite of the demands of a certain member of her family, made up of ghosts and a small band of otherworldly orphans. While Lazlo and Sarai are the focus, there were well-developed secondary characters, as well. There are plenty of intriguing people to look forward to meeting if you decide to dive into this world, and I’ll leave them for you to discover.
“I think you're a fairy tale. I think you're magical, and brave, and exquisite. And I hope you'll let me be in your story.”
The central romance was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever witnessed, if not the most beautiful. While there was a bit of a love triangle in the book, it had absolutely no bearing on the central romance, which made me incredibly happy. Here we have star-crossed lovers whose story leaves Romeo and Juliet pale and weak in its wake. Never have I been so moved by a fictional kiss. Seriously, just read the quotes below and you’ll see what I mean.
That’s what a kiss is like, he thought, no matter how brief: It’s a tiny, magical story, and a miraculous interruption of the mundane.
He felt like a glass filled with splendor and luck. His lips curved into a smile. He whispered, “You have ruined my tongue for all other tastes,” and understood finally what that phrase meant.
The setting of the book was beyond fantastic. From the Great Library of Zosma to the sprawling desert of Elumthaleth to the the citadel of the dead gods to Weep, the Unseen City itself, the settings were real and vibrant enough to make readers feel as though the could tumble into the pages and land in any of these exotic locals. But the most beautiful setting of all of housed within the mind of Strange the Dreamer. The dreams he spun were incredible to behold.
But all of these components, the plot and the characters and the setting, would have fallen flat without Laini’s writing to hold them up. Her style is exquisite. Her prose is lush. I can think of no better description. I’ve read books with heartbreakingly beautiful prose, and I would put this book up against any of those. The world Laini was able to paint with her words boggles my mind in the best way. Here are a few of examples of her prose that have stuck with me:
As for fairy tales, he understood that they were reflections of the people who had spun them, and were flecked with little truths - intrusions of reality into fantasy, like toast crumbs on a wizard's beard.
And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.
And so Grief and Shame abided in adjoining rooms with the door shut between them, holding their pain in their arms instead of each other.
Sometimes a moment is so remarkable that it carves out a space in time and spins there, while the world rushes on around it. This was one such.
I do have to admit that I was infuriated by the ending, but mainly because I wanted to pick up the second book as soon as I closed the cover of the first, and there’s not yet a publication date for Muse of Nightmares. I would recommend this book to literally everyone, just for the sheer beauty of the prose and setting. But if you’re a romantic, you should definitely pick up this book. If you’re a dreamer, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t read this story. Nothing encourages dreaming like being in the presence of another dreamer. Strange the Dreamer is both dream and dreamer printed on paper. Sink into this world and you’ll never want to leave.
“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable," she pleaded. "Something beautiful and full of monsters."
“Beautiful and full of monsters?"
“All the best stories are.”