Strange the Dreamer (2017) by Laini Taylor Review
Strange the Dreamer revolves around the character of Lazlo Strange who dreams about the mythical lost city of Weep. War orphan and junior librarian, he spends his time writing books about Weep, questioning where it came from, what happened to it, and all the other mysteries regarding the city itself. When a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors visit his hometown, Lazlo realizes that he has the chance to seize his dream to travel to the magical city of Weep.
I’ll start with the good: the writing is beautiful. With writing, there is always this certain line that divides purple prose from beautiful prose. Taylor’s writing perfectly stands on the beautiful side. The sentences she creates are so magical and poetic yet it doesn’t come off as too much nor preposterous. It is just right. Sometimes authors get caught up in their writing too much that they lose their trail of thought, though Taylor doesn’t forget that there is a story underneath the prose. She knows when to describe, and she knows when to stop.
What I found problematic about the novel is its plot. It doesn’t know what it is building towards. Yes, there is intrigue and mystery (especially with Sarai’s character); there also seems to be a war brewing between two sides, but the thing is, all of these war stuff and mysteries are thrown in the background because of the (unsurprising) romance between Lazlo and Sarai. It feels on and off actually. Sometimes the novel focuses on its war aspects then suddenly it breaks off to Lazlo and Sarai flirting with each other. Not only does it make the plot’s objection confusing, but it also breaks the momentum of the story.
The execution wasn’t great as well. The prologue teased Sarai and made me very intrigued about her character, but the novel seemed to give away so much too quickly. The reader is given all the answers to questions that aren’t supposed to be addressed up to until like the last third of the novel. It’s strange as well since the chapters seemed to focus on Lazlo’s character and his journey then, about 80-100 pages in, randomly throws in Sarai’s perspective in another part of the world. It removes all sense of mystery and the excitement the reader has in encountering the city of Weep. The tease the prologue gave revealed its secrets too early. I would’ve liked it better if it revealed bits and pieces of plot details as the story progresses.
Another thing is that the world-building is off in this book. It seems strong because of the beautiful prose, but it isn’t. The way the city is described leaves me with so much questions. How has Weep survived if it has been cut off from the rest of the world for about more than 200 years? Why has no one tried to get inside the Citadel? What’s their culture, tradition, religion, government system, live expectancy, currency, and technology? It seemed as if Taylor is hiding too much about Weep to reveal more in the sequel, but since the novel gave up Sarai’s secret easily, then I wouldn’t think so. For all the hype that’s been built around the mythical lost city, I feel like the place hasn’t been explored much. So much for the tease during the book’s early blurbs.
All of these aspects: world-building, plot, characterization, really made Strange the Dreamer a disappointing read. The ending as well felt so happy with a tiny ribbon stashed on top. There are so many loose threads, so many questions and promises of conflicts that don’t even come. What’s the deal with Thyon Nero? Wasn’t he supposed to have a bigger role as the first half teased? What’s happening back in Zosma? The book seems to busy itself with too much red herrings that it forgets to deliver a proper story with decent world-building. Instead, it reads more like beautifully written romance fan fiction set in a magical city, except that the supposed magical city isn’t magical at all.