(Any potential spoilers will be blacked out. Highlight at your own risk!)
Strange the Dreamer is another fantastic fantasy novel from Laini Taylor, full of the same beautiful prose and familiar themes as her Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, but this time with a new cast of characters and a different, colorful world.
In this world, humans have two hearts and two bodily fluids that are the force of life–blood and spirit. Lazlo Strange is an orphan from the kingdom of Zosma, a librarian by trade and a dreamer in spirit. He has long been obsessed with Weep, or what he calls the Unseen City, a place that disappeared two centuries ago and exists only as a fairytale in the minds of most people. But one day, the mythical Tizerkane warriors of Weep appear in Zosma, and Lazlo Strange finds that his dreams are very much rooted in reality as he grows closer to unlocking the mysteries of Weep.
It took me two books to fall in love with Laini Taylor’s previous trilogy, but I was immediately drawn to this one. Daughter of Smoke & Bone reminded me a bit of an anime, but Strange the Dreamer reminds me of a fairytale, with a fantastical, dream-like quality to the storytelling and writing that fits the title. Part of what immediately drew me to Lazlo as a character is his love for books and storytelling–give a reader a book about a reader and she will immediately fall in love. But also because so much of the novel is focused on Lazlo and his story and his adventure. He views the world in terms of stories, myths, and legends just waiting to be written, and we are immersed into this worldview of his.
There is a hint of instalove here, but that doesn’t appear until much later in the novel, and the relationship is so beautiful and so sweet that I can forgive the instalove. It doesn’t appear early enough to annoy me, and instead we get to spend that extra time really getting to know our cast of characters and the history of Weep and the world around them.
Exploring the relationship between “good” and “evil” and the two sides of every story is a theme that Taylor seems to be constantly exploring in her novels. There is also a recurring theme of exploring one’s own identity, and a questioning of what constitutes humanity. These themes all appear in this world and allow the novel to transcend fantasy and look at issues that also exist in reality.
What I found particularly interesting is how Strange the Dreamer looks at the dynamic between two groups of beings who have a long history of prejudice, power imbalance, and violence between them, who are both “human” in many ways but have also done terrible things that are inhumane. The individuals in these two groups are very much the same on the inside: they both have two hearts that pump blood and spirit, both feel emotion and have relationships and want to live, but their main dividing feature is the color of their skin, and with that color comes so much history and prejudice and hatred. Seem familiar? The exploration of this dynamic is most obvious when Lazlo comes into his power and finds that he has become blue, and the people around him–who have gotten to know him so well–are unable to see past the new color of his skin.
Strange the Dreamer is a must-read for lovers of Laini Taylor and/or a good fantasy. It’s a beautiful story on its own, but the ending will leave you hungering for more.