Bookish Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Published: March 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton UK

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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?The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? Welcome to Weep. 

Review: Every so often a book will come along that makes you think “wow, I wish I could write something like that!” and Strange the Dreamer about sums that category up. I got the gorgeous hardcover through FairyLoot (whooo!) and savoured the whole reading experience, especially as I’d recently met Laini Taylor during her UK tour (blog post on that here!) They hype was strong with this was from way back in 2016 and so I had high hopes… needless to say Strange delivered and then some 🙂

Stolen name, stolen sky. Stolen children, stolen years.

I want to start with Lazlo because *hearts* – but not in the Rhysand way (I’m sure you all know what that means…) Lazlo was so likeable and a character you couldn’t help but root for. I spent most of the book just wanting the world for Lazlo because he hella deserved it. It’s not often you get such a pure character that doesn’t also come across as a little too sugary, but Ms Taylor got it bang on with Lazlo, he was earnest yes, but very genuine. Sarai was another strong character – I loved how principled she was even though she had every right to be bitter, being punished for something that was before her time. The secondary characters were also great, interesting and complex but I felt like we didn’t see enough of them! Thyon and Calixte, Sparrow and Feral, Azareen and Eril-Fane clearly all have their own back stories and parts to play so I’m hoping we get to see more of them in the next and final book.

But dreams were a different matter. He was Strange the Dreamer. This was his realm, and there were no limits here.

Interestingly, during the event, Laini mentioned that Strange the Dreamer doesn’t have a villain – and while initially , I thought maybe I didn’t agree entirely, the beauty of this book is how it makes you re-examine concepts like good and evil, right and wrong, hero and villain. Nothing about the conundrum in Strange is clear cut black and white – Laini said she wanted to tackle the aftermath of war and whether forgiveness and healing can overcome violence and vengeance and I am in awe of how she handled this, through complex characters and flawless worldbuilding. Unfairly, YA seems to often have a rep for being about fluffy romances and high school drama, but then books like Strange knock misconceptions like that out of the park, especially as you can draw parallels between this fantasy story and many things going on in the world today. 

Vengeance… if you really feel it – then you speak it like it’s a still-beating heart clenched in your fist and there’s blood running down you arm, dripping off your elbow, and you can’t let go.

So yes needless to say, I completely fell in love with the story in Strange the Dreamer, it was totally original and Laini had me on tenterhooks the whole time – I could not have seen that ending coming or much of the book at all. At the signing event, Laini described the book as a love letter to fantasy fans and it really is! Strange the Dreamer is all about the beauty of dreams, the strength of imagination, and the wonder of love and evil. The story was woven well, and it all came together brilliantly at the end. One thing I did appreciate was that although Strange is the first in a duology, the ending didn’t feel like a cop out, it was very much the end of one story and the beginning of another.  

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.

Final mention goes to the EX-QUI-SITE writing in Strange the Dreamer. I fell in love with Laini’s writing when I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Strange  does not disappoint – in fact I think it’s miles better if that’s even possible. I found myself highlighting vast swathes of the book and conjuring up the most fantastical images of Lazlo’s world. Laini really does have a gift stringing together ordinary words in the most extraordinary way and hearing her talk about it at the event was beyond brilliant. If gorgeously written fantasy is right up your street, but Strange the Dreamer isn’t already on your shelves/kindle/TBR you must go and get it now! I promise you won’t regret it 🙂

Every colour was deeper, richer than the real, and there were so many of them. If the weaver of the world itself had kept the snipped ends of every thread she’d ever used, her basket might look something like this.

Have you read Strange the Dreamer? Did you manage to meet Laini during her UK tour? Let me know in the comments below!!

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Bookish Event: Strange the Dreamer Signing

9 April will henceforth be known as the day that I MET LAINI TAYLOR!!! *hyperventilates* So ahem yes I’d started Strange the Dreamer before the event – it came with the April Fairy Loot subscription box (yay!) but I knew there was no way I’d finish in time to meet Laini. And anyway, I wanted to savour the book because the way she writes is beyond beautiful that you just can’t rush it! 

Laini landed in the UK on Sunday and went straight to her Waterstones Piccadilly Strange the Dreamer launch event. Katie Webber, who is a self-confessed Laini Taylor fangirl, was chairing the event so it was guaranteed to be a good event – and it was.The event was totally sold out so as per usual, doing a recap for those who couldn’t make it and won’t be able to catch Laini on her tour of the UK. Right, now onto the actual event and questions!

1. Katie started by asking how Laini got into writing, her inspiration and how she came to write Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Laini said that she’d always enjoyed world-building and found it came naturally to her, more so than storytelling. She ended up attending a writing workshop and was advised by the teacher to keep writing because “she was the real deal” – Laini said naturally that meant she did the exact opposite for ten years… art school! She explained that it was YA fantasy that bought her back to writing – specifically The Golden Compass and Sabriel. Reading these books she said she found her voice, and even though it was difficult, rediscovering fantasy made her the writer she is today. 

2. The second questions was one that a few of us were probably intrigued about – where did Laini get the idea of Strange the Dreamer?

Laini said where with Daughter of Smoke & Bone the characters and concept came fully alive and formed to her, the idea for Strange the Dreamer was in her mind for ages, and it was actually the first book she sold on proposal (where publishers buy the book based on an idea rather than a query/manuscript). Laini explained she had the idea of the muse of nightmares, and orphans of gods for a while and actually wrote the first 30 chapters of the first draft from Sarai’s perspective and with Lazlo as the love interest. It was only when she wrote from Lazlo’s POV that she realised it worked and he became the hero of the story! Fun fact: ‘Strange the Dreamer’ was actually the name of his chapter initially.

3. Katie then asked about romance and how Laini writes love stories in her books – something I’m sure we all appreciate 😉 

Laini started off saying that romance was one of her favourite things about stories – and something not to be ashamed of. She explained that love is something that speaks to everyone, it’s elemental and resonates in some way or another with readers and that genres, especially romance and fantasy, create an instant connection with readers. Laini then said she has a rather lewd way of explaining this connection – called the ‘myth hole’ 🙂 She explained that its a part of us that yearns for stories of myths and legend and fantasy. Strange the Dreamer and specifically the character of Laszlo who adores fairytales, was a love letter to fantasy readers. 

4. Katie next mentioned that Laini’s books deal with good and evil and asked whether that was a theme she consciously explores in her books. 

Laini explained that we are all a product of our circumstances and that the question of whether harm done to us can be undone really fascinates her. Whilst the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is set during a war, in Strange the Dreamer Laini wanted to explore the aftermath of war, and the concepts of forgiveness, healing and whether it’s possible to not react to the violence of our circumstances. Laini also said that the ‘evil ante’ in YA and books generally was too high that she didn’t want to compete and create a villain so evil that it continued to up the ante – instead she decided that the villain in Strange the Dreamer would be dead already. She summed up the book as a less Disney-esque plot which culminates in killing the villain, and a more Miyazaki-esque plot driven by ‘saving’ the villain instead.

This was easily my favourite question and answer from Laini – made even better by the fact that she mentioned that it was telling that the #1 and #2 books on the NYT Bestsellers list atm are The Hate U Give and Strange the Dreamer respectively – books that discuss violence, stereotyping and society, important topics of discussion in today’s world.

5. Katie then asked how Laini manages to write so beautifully (something we all agree with I’m sure!) Katie asked whether it was in the editing or if it actually flowed that way when writing. 

Laini confessed that her writing almost never flows, beyond the few shining parts in each book. Laini explained that she has to love the writing process every step of the way and so she often writes scene by scene, which often means lots of drafts until the heart of that scene clicks. She said that whilst she loves crafting sentences and, like world-building finds its easier, books are not so easy! Laini also mentioned that she weaves the world building with the plot and tries not to do to much up front anymore.

6. One of the Q&A questions was the usual writing tips – I’m always curious about the different answers authors have for this question 🙂

Laini’s first piece of advice was to get into the habit of completing works in progress even if it’s short, and to do this by coming up with a narrative arc and concluding it. If you have writer’s block, she suggested instead of coming up with two or three plot development options, come up with 10 or 20 including wild and wacky ones just to get the creative juices flowing and make you feel less restricted. Katie piped up that Laini has a blog Not For Robots where she’s shared lots of writing tips – so definitely check that out if you’re interested!

6. Final question was would Laini explicitly go back to the world of Daughter of Smoke & Bone (eep!)

We were all on the edge of our seats when Katie asked the question we were all dying to know the answer to. Laini basically made all of our lives by answering, yes with the way the trilogy ended, she thought it was ready for a return to the world of Daughter of Smoke & Bone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Have you read Strange the Dreamer? Are you a long-time fan of Laini and her Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy?? Let me know in the comments below!