I don't know if it's the unbelievably stupid fucking actions of Lazlo in the last fifteen pages, or the fact that I could not force**spoiler alert**
I don't know if it's the unbelievably stupid fucking actions of Lazlo in the last fifteen pages, or the fact that I could not force myself to give a single solitary shit about Sarai, or the fact that this book scraaaaaaped to its conclusion at a grandfatherly pace, but I turn the last page in a fit of rage: why, Laini Taylor? Why?
My rating is generous, rage considered. I accidentally bought two copies of this, and then we ended up with three copies total in the house, and while it's certainly beautiful (the UK cover is, at least) we all know by now that just because something, particularly a book, is beautiful, doesn't mean it's worth slaving over for six days when you're already failing your reading challenge.
But my dilemma is this: this book is written like Laini Taylor books are, which is with immense skill in prose but a total disregard for pacing. The pacing in DOSAB was similarly plodding, but the characters were immersive, spirited, bright. I cared about them. In Strange the Dreamer? Lady, please. I started off with a sort of small fondness for Lazlo, but it petered out, and he felt to me like something incorporeal. There was no meat to his character, and I think it's a really strange skill to have, to be able to write a character who does have a personality but who still feels flat.
Sarai is a lost cause. Flat as fuck, like the rest of the godspawn. I felt a teeny-weeny tinge of something, maybe, when she died, but it all was shot to shit with Lazlo's unbelievably stupid choice to allow Minya to bring her back.
Sarai fu--okay, look. I lived with these characters for five hundred and thirty-two pages. There was no plot, only a series of situations that were eventually overwhelmed with a mass of cloying, sickly romance. But still it enraged me, that not a second thought was given to the ramifications of Lazlo asking Minya, the girl who built an army of ghosts who are imprisoned against their will, to bring Sarai back. How dare he be surprised that Minya is now keeping Sarai as a pawn! And it's a testament to the uselessness of the other three siblings that they were essentially absent from the final scene, completely forgotten about by the author, making no comment on the situation whatsoever. What happened to them? They just became part of the scenery. They were furniture in that fucking citadel.
I mean, really? They had nothing to say about Minya bringing Sarai back? Nothing at all? None of them thought it might be a bad idea? That's not the case. It's simply that this book and its characters were all over the place, and Feral, Ruby, and Sparrow were such obvious window dressing that there was honestly no place for them in the finale. I refuse to believe that it was an informed choice by the author to have those three characters stand static and silent as the final sequence played out.
This book is filled with anguish, but it has none of DOSAB's emotional weight. It feels like going through the motions, and it's filled with plot holes: if Sarai was a baby when the Carnage happened, then how does she know Skathis well enough to dream him in vivid detail? His facial expressions, his outfit, everything? How did Lazlo's skin fade from blue to white in such a short period of time that it was already grey when he was taken in by the monks? If there actually is candy that can make a person immortal, why is this just a tiny nugget of world-building? Think about this - a substance that can make a person live forever. How many wars would be fought over this? Would the svygators not be farmed? How can you introduce a substance with this much weight and then leave it where it is, as an inconsequential, pretty frill?
This is the problem I have with Laini Taylor's world-building. It seems strong, but it isn't. How has Weep survived being cut off from the rest of the world? What's the religion, their festivals, their government system? What's their currency? How long do people live for? Are the godspawn immortal? Why has no one tried to get into the citadel in fifteen years? If there's enough technology to know what clockwork is, then why are we only just discovering flying machines? Surely something would have to have been done about the falling plums in Windfall, because if something falls from that height and hits someone, it might kill them. Why, then, have we not built some kind of structure to get into the citadel? Why did no one think of climbing ropes? Why, in fifteen years, have the people in Weep not tried to move the anchors, rather than destroy them?
Why are they all so bewildered about the purpose of the anchors? They are literally calling them anchors. Is it not obvious that they're the things holding the citadel in the sky?
I think the most unforgivable part of this is its pacing, though. A good hundred pages could have been shaved off, and the story tightened up, and the worst part is this: the beginning and middle aren't even the slowest parts. The end is the real punisher. It was agonising, and it was a whole lot of build-up for absolutely no payoff. Was anyone surprised that Lazlo was godspawn? Anyone at all? That's not an ending, nor is it a shocking reveal. It's a given. But when you're relying on this "revelation" to pack the full force of the ending's punch, then it's going to fall extremely flat.
I don't want you guys to think that I'm pummelling this - well, I kind of am, but only because I know Laini Taylor can do better. We all saw it in DOSAB. The first book of the trilogy was meh, but the second two were excellent. So what's going on here? What did I just read?
This book was disappointing to the point where I don't know if I can even be bothered with the sequel. It was beautifully written, yes, visual and thoughtful, and certainly unique, but those things are laurels that a book this long and involved cannot rest on. You cannot built an epic fantasy novel on a very, very, very half-hearted romance, and said romance was what killed this book for me. It killed it dead.
Listen, because to my grave I will say this: there is nothing wrong with books about romance. There is nothing wrong with fantasy books revolving around a romance. A book is not dumb because it's about romance; it's not less deserving of praise because it features romance. A lot of people very much enjoy romantic plots, and that is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and nor does it diminish the value of the book.
But mate, come on. If you're going to make your book about a romance - which, it cannot be denied, this book is - then that romance had better be compelling. It had better be believable. It had better feel real. And yet I felt nothing for the relationship between Lazlo and Sarai; it was rushed and silly. How can you expect me to buy this? They know virtually nothing about each other. They know the things on the surface, yes, but who doesn't like flying in their dreams? Who doesn't fucking like tea and cake? It's like that scene in Friends where Phoebe meets her birth mother and acts like it's so crazy that they have all of this in common - they both like pizza and puppies! Oh my god!
Who doesn't fucking like pizza and puppies?
Here they've known each other for all of three weeks, or something like that, and Lazlo is willing to become Minya's slave, and condemn Sarai to the same fate, just so they don't have to be apart! Not only is this not romantic, it's kind of twisted. Death is incredibly sad, any death, but is Lazlo so tone deaf and so selfish that he is unwilling to just let go? If I were given the choice of mourning the passing of my loved ones or condemning them to ghostly slavery just so that I would not have to be without them, I think I would choose to mourn them. That's the more difficult choice, but choosing the latter means choosing your own welfare over theirs. Frankly, this choice was so stupid that I'm finding it hard to summon any motivation to read the sequel. I get it - I get that this is the conflict, this is the situation we're in and it's how we're going to expand to a sequel - but it's just so ridiculous and extra. Is this really the only way this story could have moved forward? This is the conflict that's been chosen for us? Seriously?
Would it not have been enough for the people of Weep to turn on Lazlo, or for Minya to attack the town with her army of ghosts? Would it not have been enough for the citadel to fall completely, destroy Weep, and sent the godspawn fleeing for refuge out into the world? Would it not have been enough to ditch the dumb cliffhanger and give us stakes higher than Lazlo's stupid choice? I don't want to read a book about Minya making Sarai say mean things to Lazlo and having Lazlo pine for Sarai. I want a bigger problem - more gods arriving, Zosma held hostage by all of the other hidden godspawn who must be there, or at least somewhere out in the world. I want something earth-shattering and big, not this, the same old tormented lovers stemming from a relationship that was so hard to care about.
Maybe this wouldn't have felt like such a disappointment if the whole story hadn't been set up to be so much bigger than it was. There are so many threads, all of them cut loose by the choice to whittle away all of that promise for a conflict that's not interesting or different or even relevant. What's the deal with Thyon Nero? What's happening back in Zosma? Where are all of the other children? What happens to all of these threads, or are they left to trail while we look forward to a sequel of sitting in the citadel at Minya's mercy?
I'll tell you how it should have ended: Lazlo's dreams are crushed when Sarai is revealed to be a puppet of Minya, and he realizes that she really is dead and there's no getting her back. He loses his endless hope and his faith in goodness. As soon as Sarai's ghost appears to be under Minya's control, he takes a shard of mesarthium and impales Minya with it, killing her. All of Minya's ghosts dispel, including Sarai, and then we're looking at a sequel where Lazlo is warring with a monstrous grief inside of him, trying not to become a new Skathis, while the other lost godspawn rise up in Zosma and take control of it. Weep and Zosma are now poised to war and the only person who can stop them is Lazlo alone, except he is drowning in guilt.
I suppose that's pretty fucking harsh, but it packs more of a punch than this. Then again, from a book this slow and unforgiving, I don't know what else I expected....more