Thursday 27 July 2017

Strange the Dreamer, Laini Taylor

"It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming?" 
The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

* * * * *
5 / 5 

Sometimes I'm not sure whether a book is a four or a five star; is it great or an all-time favourite sort of great? When confronted with this question I have one good, solid criteria: did I notice the page numbers flipping by? I have quite a mathematical mind - when I start a book I like to look at the back and see how many pages there are and when I read I like to calculate how far through, fraction-wise, I am (obviously Kindles make this far too easy). When reading a great book I'll notice the page numbers going up and go ahhh, 4/7 the way through, what a shame I'm getting towards the end. In an all-time favourite sort of book, I won't even notice. It's only when I set the book down that I'll take note of where I am. 

"Life won't just happen to you boy, he said. You have to happen to it"

With Strange the Dreamer I was so enveloped by the prose, so wrapped into the world that Taylor has crafted, that I was barely aware of even turning any pages (and very lovely pages they were too, blue-edged and everything). It's a rare kind of book that can do that to me. This book deserves to be read knowing little more than what the synopsis says; I hadn't read any reviews before I dove into this book and I'm grateful for that. I don't think I would have enjoyed it so much if I hadn't been able to be surprised about the directions this book went in, so in this review I will offer just a few general ideas and criticisms.

Strange the Dreamer is a fantasy novel at the more adult end of the YA spectrum; I might even comfortably class it as an adult novel. It blends together myths, monsters, dreams and tragedies into it's beautiful prose. It's about a boy who is raised in a library, a librarian who has a dream about a city lost two hundred years ago. The city of Weep whose name is not Weep, whose name, fifteen years ago, was wiped from the name of every human. Why? How? These are the questions that haunt Lazlo Strange.

"You think good people can't hate? Good people can't kill? Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo, except that when they do them they call it justice"

It's also about a girl with blue skin. Sarai: seventeen years old and a goddess and a girl and a demon all in one. Sarai and Lazlo are both gems of characters; it takes a good writer to write a monstrous yet relatable woman. I can pick out a few in YA literature - Nona Grey (Red Sister), Thorn Bathu (Half the World), Lada Dragwyla (And I Darken) - but most end up being sarcastic, archetypal teenagers. Sarai is not one of these. It's about an alchemist. About five orphaned children. About a secret that has kept a city closed for two hundred years. It's about a man called Godslayer and the gods he slayed. It's about dreams and destiny and love and fear.

"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"

Pretty much my only criticism of this book is the romance: I'm not a massive fan of romance in books generally, but I must admit I had a fondness for this one. Whilst reading it I sort of got swept away in it, in the sense of magic and beauty, but upon reflection it was a bit odd and I think it would have made more sense for Lazlo to love his dream above all else, rather than a woman, and for Sarai to love her freedom. I also think some people might have reservations about Taylor's writing style; it's dreamy and perhaps a little overdone in places, but personally I found it absorbing and magical.

Strange the Dreamer is a wonderful and strange book that I absolutely recommend.

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