Book Review: Strange the Dreamer Duology by Laini Taylor

“Once upon a time there was a silence that dreamed of becoming a song, and then I found you, and now everything is music.”

As a self-certified bookworm, I can vouch for the fact that stories, like food, are ration for the soul. There are some that let your heart blossom, make your dreams flow. Some curdle your blood, melt your bones; others enchant your mind, soothe the soul. But occasionally, you come across tales that do all of the above. These are worlds, words that stay with you. Become one with your mind and dissolve into your senses so deep, the craving to re-meet them never leaves like sugar. These two books were one such tale.

You can guess the impact – read, emotional destruction – this series had on me from the fact that I’ve chosen to review both books together, my nerdy heart disturbed by the mere thought of separating them. These books, like our protagonists, belong together.  

I’ll try my best to review this without spoilers because first, nothing I say here will do justice to the world. Second, the best way to go into this story in by knowing as little as possible.

It’ll be inaccurate to categorize this series as young-adult fantasy. Yes, the major characters do fit that age group but mythology and history are so ageless, it’s difficult to categorize this work in a neat little slot. This series is full of everything. And I do mean everything. Romance, mystery, magic, suspense, but, undoubtedly, it’s the writer’s eloquence that takes the thunder.

Book 1, Strange the Dreamer, begins, surprisingly, with an ending. 25 words that reach in with a hook and drown you in a world that refuses to let go.

“On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky. Her skin was blue, her blood was red…”

Our male protagonist, Lazlo Strange, is an orphan raised by monks and he loves stories – a habit that earns him the nickname, Strange, the Dreamer. One day, he went to the Great Library of Zosma to run an errand and never returned. But to call Lazlo a dreamer is like calling the sun a giant ball of fire: simply inadequate.

“The library knows its own mind,” old Master Hyrrokkin told him, leading him back up the secret stairs. “When it steals a boy, we let it keep him.”

In contrast, our female protagonist, Sarai, is a dashing heroine with a dash of a villain. I won’t reveal who or what she because that’s the fun part for the reader to figure out but in Lazlo’s words, the best way to describe Sarai is “a singularly unhorrible demon.”

Together, these two have become one of my favorite ships of all time. In a world filled with angsty teenage heroes, Lazlo was a delightfully refreshing change to read. Kind, honest and generally good, he doesn’t rush but breathes off the page like a pleasant gust of scented air. Sarai was simply magical, a true fairy tale of character: compassionate, complicated and the right side of tough. It’s a good thing I started Strange after Muse of Nightmares was delivered because with that ending, the wait would have been unbearable.

Since I can’t reveal the plot without spoiling, I’ll just list down – in no particular order of priority – the things that made this series a fantastic read:

  • The Cast of Characters: Every single character in this book is unique in its own right. There are new would-be lovers and old, wistful ones. There are people inherently good and objective, others blind and prejudiced. But no matter which side of the line they fall on, all of them are well crafted. Simplistic but not simple, complicated but not confusing. More than anything, they’re really real and read as people. Even, especially, the villians. At no time is the reader unconvinced of their motives or reasons and the writer even gets you to sympathize with most of them, not, however, in a cliched manner.
  • The World-Building/History/Mythology: The world-building is one of the richest I have ever read. The magic system does appear to be a little unspecified but it’s still a delight to read. What’s not fun to read about a world where anything can happen? And trust me, the writer does make liberal use of that but not in a roll-your-eyes sort of way. Everything just sort of… fits. Not always neatly but definitely nicely in a way you may have not seen coming. And now that I know that this series is loosely connected to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I’m sure the supposedly random bits will make more sense when I read that.
  • The Story: At over 500 pages each, this series is by no means a short read. And yet, the plot never slacks. The action is well-paced, the suspense consistent and the detailing is done cleverly enough that it leaves you wanting more. Moreover, the writing so is bloody brilliant, even the slow, dreamy parts engage you in so you loath to read quickly and miss anything.
  • The Writing: Every other line in these books deserves to be carved in metal. There are quotes I want to drown in and eat for breakfast, chapters I know I’ll be memorizing by heart and narrating to anybody who’ll listen. Laini Taylor is a brilliant wordsmith, a magician born to both, dazzle and write. She’s one of the few writers who has inspired me to a point that I wish I could live in her brain or, at the very least, travel into her dreams on a nightly basis. It’s decidedly unfair that I’m unable to do either.

“There was a man who loved the moon, but whenever he tried to embrace her, she broke into a thousand pieces and left him drenched, with empty arms.”

As much as I adored the story, finishing it leaves me sad. Not only do I now have a massive book-hangover, for the coming few months, I’ll also be living with semi-permanent guilt. The guilt of being unable to rate this series higher than five stars because by comparison, all my other five-stars [old and recent] simply do not match.

I can’t wait to read other – read, ALL – works by Laini Taylor. [Which, if you know me, I’ve already ordered.]

RATING: ALL THE STARS OF MY HEART!

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