Review: Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares

The dream chooses the dreamer,
not the other way around.
Strange the Dreamer tells the story of Lazlo Strange, a young orphan boy in a faraway land who dreams of magic.

Lazlo is obsessed with Weep, a mythical, Unseen city that has become “lost” because everyone has forgotten it. He remembers the exact moment when the city’s real name and history disappeared from the minds of everyone around him, so he knows what others no longer believe – that magic exists, because only magic could erase Weep from the world.

Lazlo also knows that fairy tales are real. And his dreams are magic. What he never foresees is how much the life he dreams for himself will become a magical fairy tale.




Lazlo is orphaned as a young child and raised by monks, who give him the name Strange. (This surname indicates that he isn’t part of a traditional family, like Snow and Sand in Game of Thrones.) He eventually becomes an apprentice at the Great Library of Zosma, where he devours every fairy tale he can find, “collect[s] the stories like treasure”, looking for clues about Weep. Over the years, he fills seven notebooks with descriptions of its splendor and theories about its fate. He even teaches himself the language of Weep.
He drifted about with his head full of myths, always at least half lost in some otherland of story. Demons and wingsmiths, seraphim and spirits, he loved it all.


Lazlo also dreams, and his dreams are not like the dreams of others. He dreams of vast, unfamiliar landscapes. He dreams of Weep. He dreams of histories and futures he hasn’t lived, he dreams bad things into good.
He dreamed of deserts and great empty cities and imagined he could feel the minutes and hours of his life running through him, as though he were nothing but an hourglass of flesh and bone.

When the Godslayer, a fabled savior of Weep, arrives with a band of warriors in search of specialized skills to help restore Weep, Lazlo has a chance to make his dreams come true. But he must first outsmart the unscrupulous Thyon Nero, acclaimed alchemist and golden godson of the queen, who has “borrowed” Lazlo’s notebooks and claimed their secrets as his own. Luckily, Lazlo didn’t write everything down, and he soon finds himself riding a magical creature he didn’t know was real across the “uncrossable” Elmuthaleth desert toward the adventures that beckon in his dreams.
In the sheer, shimmering improbability of the moment, it seemed to Lazlo that his dream had tired of waiting and had simply...come to find him.

***
And at that moment, for no reason he could put into words, the hourglass shattered. No more, the cool gray sift of days, the diligent waiting for the future to trickle forth. Lazlo’s dream was spilled out into the air, the color and storm of it no longer a future to be reached, but a cyclone here and now. He didn’t know what, but as surely as one feels the sting of shards when an hourglass tips off a shelf and smashes, he knew that something was happening.

Right now.

As Lazlo explores Weep and uncovers its many dark secrets, we learn along with him. One day he dreams of a blue-skinned goddess who flies on the wings of moths. He tells her stories and offers her refuge in his dreams. She is the Muse of Nightmares, and she opens an entirely new dimension into his life and the story of Weep, which continues in Muse of Nightmares.
If you’re afraid of your own dreams, you’re welcome here in mine.
I don’t want to tell you more. This is a wondrous story, unlike anything I’ve read before. To reveal any of its surprises could diminish your amazement and perhaps undercut the exquisite beauty of the author’s words. Which would be a crime against literature, because the words in these books and the pictures they evoke in my mind are the most beautiful I have ever encountered.
Once upon a time there was a silence that dreamed of becoming a song, and then I found you, and now everything is music.
Adjectives for Laini Taylor’s work abound: literary gorgeousness, linguistic alchemy, a sparkling, mesmerizing FabergĂ© egg. All are inadequate. (Though this reviewer, from whom I copied those last two descriptions, feels much like I do and made a valiant attempt that soothed me when I was feeling overwhelmed by emotion after finishing the book.)

As I neared the end of Strange the Dreamer, I could not stop reading. And I literally cried over the beauty. For days. I could not even form words to describe how I felt when I finished it. The richness, the power her words had to distill and evoke emotions, to ensorcell my mind with ethereal visions of rapturous beauty. No book has ever had quite this effect on me. Even now, I cry as I try to write about the beauty. I still can’t translate it into words. I can only translate it into tears, but they are tears of awe and reverence.


I loved these characters. Their stories took me places that will haunt me forever. Their world is unparalleled. Everything about these books is colorful and fabulously inventive and densely layered with nuance and complexity. But Taylor serves it all up at a leisurely, measured pace, like a many-course gourmet meal, one tantalizing morsel at a time. Each is a moment of sensory perfection, to be savored deliberately. I consumed the trail of tasty treats like breadcrumbs bonbons, and by the time I realized how large and multidimensional her feast of a story had become, I was just deliriously happy to be right smack in the middle of ravenously devouring it.


Though this is considered YA fantasy, there is a surprisingly deep love story that evolves beyond my definition of YA. There is also much wisdom about life and love and pain and joy. Since I can’t rave about these extraordinary characters, their astonishing origins, and their heroic journey, I’ll just leave a smattering of interesting phrasing completely removed from context. But trust me, if you love beautiful fairy tales, Strange the Dreamer just might be one of those stories that sears your soul deeply and irrevocably.
There were two mysteries, actually: one old, one new. The old one opened his mind, but it was the new one that climbed inside, turned several circles, and settled in with a grunt — like a satisfied dragon in a new cozy lair. And there it would remain — the mystery, in his mind — exhaling enigma for years to come.

***
Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice.

***
Her voice would die before she ran out of rage. She could scream a hole in her throat and come unraveled, fall to pieces like moth-chewed silk, and still, from the leftover shreds of her, the little pile of tatters, would pour forth this unending scream.

***
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.



“Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”
“Beautiful and full of monsters?”
“All the best stories are.”

***
For what was a person but the sum of all the scraps of their memory and experience: a finite set of components with an infinite array of expressions.
This Wench rates Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares:



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