Here we are once again, a one-two book review with my Pixie-in-law. I do the wins, she does the sins, and we both have a cup of tea. This is my look at Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor. For a more critical look at the book, skip on over to this post on my sister-in-law’s blog. And check out some of my other optimistic reviews: Roseblood, Daughter of the Pirate King, & Caraval.
The actual book, hardcover, (as pictured) is beautiful and perfectly designed. I’ll admit, my initial impression of the cover was little more than ‘huh’, but halfway through, I was pointing helplessly at the blue and gold and rambling about perfection all while sobbing into my scarf. It is a lovely, large tome which stays open for you when you’re in the middle bits.
Plot: after an incredibly foreboding and mysterious prologue, the novel unfolds like a beautiful adventure. Lazlo Strange, our protagonist, sets forth into the world with a head full of books and a heart full of dreams. He faces obstacles which only make the reader feel a deeper kinship to Lazlo – my dream faced obstacles, too, ya know. He adventures into strange lands, delving into the knowledge of his time as a book-worm to help him in his quest to just keep learning. I haven’t related this much to a protagonist since I don’t even know when. In order to avoid spoilers, I’ll simply say that a sweet love story unfolds with all the grace and loveliness of Romeo and Juliet. Well done, Laini Taylor, well done. You made me want to pitch the book across the room with feelings. My only gripe is that the book doesn’t actually have an ending, per se… it has a cliffhanger because there will be a second volume. I now have an open wound in my reading-brain, and it doesn’t feel nice, but I have to give her credit for just how much it hurts.
Character: Lazlo is a fabulous protagonist, and Sarai is an excellent co-protagonist. Lazlo is relatable, good, and imaginative. Sarai feels trapped, pressured, and star-struck. She dreams of flying, and Lazlo dreams of wing-merchants. Are the side characters ignored? NO! Minya is a hateful little whatsit with a secondary dimension which may or may not have led me to soft mournful wailing on a public form of transportation. Thyon is a hateful little whatsit with a secondary dimension which … wait a second. *squints at character list* Oh, well done. That’s some lovely mirroring you did there, Ms. Taylor. Then there are the characters who just fill out the world: the God-killer and his heartbreaking past – Sorry, I meant to say, “heartbreaking present”; the God-killer’s mother who makes Lazlo feel loved for the first time since… since…; the jewel thief who banters like a criminal but has a love for stories that surpasses those ‘smarter’ than she; the ghosts who care for children; and the gods who ruled like tyrants. I believed them all because they were brilliantly and diversely written.
Bit of a kissing book, though – you should be warned.
World: in a delightful twist, Laini Taylor wrote a world I thought unique, beautiful, and deep… then she showed me how it looked when Lazlo dreamed it, and even I had to admit that ‘reality’ felt pale by comparison. She built a beautiful world and then topped herself. It was marvelous! Blue tyrants and winged cities, cakes and libraries, old books and new dreams, and just a tragedy of vividness.
Prose: The biggest win has to be the appropriate and positive use of the word ‘troglodyte’. For the rest of the prose, she keeps it clean and varied, using rich words to describe her world and well-chosen ones to illuminate her characters. I have no gripes, only wins. She holds tension like a master, writes romance like a lover, paints dreams like an artist, and foreshadows like a magician. The words themselves did not stand out but, rather, faded into brushstrokes which painted the story right in my head.
Dialogue: Each character had a voice of their own, though none particularly distinct. Her banter was sharp and funny. When two characters are romantically uncertain of each other, the awkwardness is both painful and endearing. It is a credit to her prose which can lead a single, ordinary line like, “They were all I could carry.” to feel like a punch in the gut.
Overall, this book gripped me by the collar and dragged me through a colorful adventure. By the end, I had laughed out loud, wailed in heartbreak, cried quietly, clapped my hand over my mouth, and begged Laini Taylor to take back what she had just written. I was left staring at the wall, wondering what had just happened to me. So, I would say that qualifies in the 5 star-range.
Bravo, bravo, bravo! I will certainly be looking forward to the second book, though no release date has been announced for Muse of Nightmares. Not yet…