Strange the Dreamer | Laini Taylor | 3.5 stars

Honestly, it is more like 3.75 stars than 3.5. I have been debating with myself for a long time, considering that I found 3.5 stars too little, but 4 stars a bit too much credit. In the end decided on 3.5 ONLY because the things I did not like made up such a big part of this story. I am, though, fully expecting later books in the series to have a higher rating, when Laini Taylor comes into her own with Strange the Dreamer.

Firstly, I have to say that I am in love with its cover. If any book was ever a cover buy for me, it would be this one. Except for the fact that I know Laini Taylor’s other series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and loved that every much and wanted to read any new book of hers anyway. But I am really glad it’s so beautiful, and even the title page is absolutely gorgeous with its illustrations. One thing Laini Taylor does really well, is describe the world she occupies with her story. Weep came alive for me, and in no small part thanks to her skill in painting a picture with words. I’m glad the cover reflected that.

Strange the Dreamer reads like a fairytale, which I believe Laini Taylor is much influenced by. I have pondered the title for the entire wait, and as soon as you open the book, you find out. It is about Lazlo Strange, an incurable dreamer. He is set up as the almost typical fairytale hero. He starts out small, surrounded by mystery, and you know that you are looking at a good and noble heart. To offset him is Thyon Nero, who has never heard or probably said a sincere word in his life. I must say that I took to Thyon immediately. I have a thing about seemingly irredeemable people who in the end turn out to have a heart after all.

I started shipping Lazlo and Thyon from the first moment we see them together. Just the visual of Lazlo freezing up, as soon as he notices Thyon is standing there, Thyon demanding with such determinism Lazlo’s life’s work – apparently just to screw him over. It sets up their dynamic so well, that you actually barely need the background story to know how they got there and why they behave the way they do. I was really hoping that there was an illicit love story in there as well, but alas, it was not meant to be. Although Thyon and Lazlo would certainly be far more interesting than Lazlo and Sarai are.

Jumping to those two, I find it difficult to believe how one-dimensional their relationship comes across, especially for an author who is so good at bringing her characters to life. To me, and I think to many more people. Laini Taylor has proven with her previous series and this book how incredibly good she is at drawing lifelike characters. And not only that, characters that are inherently ambiguous. They are caught between good and evil and there is no single answer for them – they are both, and they exist in both. The best example of this is Eril-Fane. A man who has saved his people from centuries of violations, slavery and torture. But also a man who killed babies to do it. And he did it, there is no question about that – a really well chosen standpoint. Because life is never clear cut, and in extreme circumstances, people do extreme things. You can feel his shame coming off the page, and Sarai’s deeply troubled relationship with him is so well drawn. How she comes to forgiving the man and all the human for the slaughter that would have seen them dead too.

This juxtapositioning of unforgivable acts and then people finding it within themselves to forgive, is pure Laini Taylor. She did it about halfway with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and she goes full-out for Strange the Dreamer. Even Minya, who really is an antagonist, acts out of severe trauma. Thyon Nero (on a less murder-y scale) is a bad person, but he is drawn to the goodness that is Lazlo and tries to understand what he knows he lacks. It makes all of them three-dimensional ánd beautiful to read about. It brings me back, of course, to the question of Lazlo and Sarai. Both are, like Karou and Akiva, apart from the rest of the characters because they see a different and better world. It also makes them very goody-two-shoes, and gives them less depth than they should have as main protagonists. They work really well in relationship to others, because Lazlo provides such a problem for Thyon Nero, and Sarai must forgive her father.

But those are problems that are put upon them by the others, and they would wave away if they could. So when they come together, we see that there is not enough depth there. Lazlo is a dreamer, Sarai can enter dreams, and when they come together their love is instant. Instant, and very unbelievable. They accept each other and their stories at face value, feel they cannot live without each other and the one even physically changes for the other. We can debate it’s for Weep, but actually, it’s really not. I must admit that I was glad at the final chapters and what happens there, because it opened up much more possibility. I was a bit sad to see it reversed in the final chapter, because it means that we will be stuck with this dynamic for the duration of the series and I don’t think it’s a good thing. Or Lazlo and Sarai must change, and that I don’t see happening.

It didn’t happen with Karou and Akiva, but at least with them, their coming together didn’t make up half the story as it did in Strange the Dreamer. And they had the advantage that they actually had lived an entire life together, but just forgotten it. Lazlo and Sarai do not have this redeeming quality to their relationship, and the only thing that might save it now, is Minya’s hold on Sarai. I am hoping Laini Taylor milks that for all it is worth, because that would be a story I would like to read.

So in short, I really loved Strange the Dreamer. It had that fairytale feel that I adore, and the characters are incredibly well drawn. They are so three-dimensional and they really explore the concepts of forgiveness, shame, ambivalence, regret, the inability to move forward. On the other hand, Lazlo and Sarai were not worth it for me. And not just because I am still shipping Lazlo and Thyon hard, but because the two are one-dimensional to me. They fall flat, and it is the only thing wrong with this otherwise fantastic book.

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