"Wow” writing. Here are some examples of the gems sprinkled throughout, which may not carry the same force here because they’re out of context, so you"Wow” writing. Here are some examples of the gems sprinkled throughout, which may not carry the same force here because they’re out of context, so you’ll have to read the novel yourself: “…[S]omething was missing. Humanity, perhaps, that quality of benevolence that humans have, without irony, named after themselves.” (Page 58.) Of stomach butterflies: “Papilio stomachus: fragile creatures, vulnerable to frost and betrayal.” (Page 70.) “Like mold on books, grow myths on history.” (Page 120.) “With the infinite patience of one who has learned to live broken, he awaited her return.” (Page 161.) “His lips made a grim twist that was like the joyless cousin of a smile.” (Page 203.) “One booted foot slid forward so her knee brushed his and settled against it, and the remaining space between them—negative space, it was called in drawing—called out to be closed.” (Page 248.) “She was curved over him like a question mark.” (Page 250.) “[It] was a masquerade [ball], a ‘come-as-you-aren't.’” (Page 340.)
Originality, then. Laini Taylor must be extraordinary to talk with in person. If you care about great writing, read this no matter how old you are.
Her imagined world is so expansive that the author is able to capably address a variety of real-world topics—imperialism and the clash of cultures, love and sex, forms of discrimination, family dynamics, loneliness, identity—inside this dreamy fantasy, where readers may be more inclined than otherwise to listen and connect emotionally. A core theme is how easily precipitous action, particularly violent action—however well intended—jeopardizes the quest for greatness....more
This is a fabulous, masculist, romantic fantasy in which Laini Taylor aggressively shatters stereotypes, and as someone who opposes gender discriminatThis is a fabulous, masculist, romantic fantasy in which Laini Taylor aggressively shatters stereotypes, and as someone who opposes gender discrimination, I love that.
The male hero is a librarian turned secretary. He’s not physically attractive or muscular. He has a crooked nose, in fact, because it broke after a book fell on it from a library shelf. He’s been cast into a low socioeconomic class, so he’s poor and has no apparent economic prospects. His expertise is fairy tales. His passion is an area of learning that the scholars of his day consider dead. He’s selfless and service-oriented. He can’t help but show concern for others even if they don’t appreciate it or reciprocate. He’s utterly without ego, cooperating instead of competing. His greatest strengths are dreaming and loving. He doesn’t try to dominate any woman or man around him. He isn’t a professional killer, or in a profession that involves killing, or violence, nor is he driven to slay, or even prone to occasional, angry outbursts. He doesn’t drink or roughhouse, or think a great night out involves harassing women at bars. He isn’t trying to become wealthy through some apparently high-flying career that might not actually accomplish much for the world, the way the novel’s Sisyphean alchemist is. Lazlo, in fact, tries to help another man become wealthy without expecting anything in return, specifically because he knows how much stress the pressure to “succeed” has produced in this acquaintance.
So you should like Lazlo, right? He’s a great guy. He works diligently to protect and advance the bank of scholarship which serves society and provides it with hope. If he’s poor, it’s because others created a class, put him in it, and are trying to keep him there. He’s ever helpful and polite, doesn’t beat anyone or get into fights, and never stabs anyone in the back.
The novel's heroine comes to love this man by entering his dreams. That is to say, she learns who he is on the inside and discovers that his inner world is far more appealing than her outer one. That’s why their relationship grows into love before they ever physically touch.
Lazlo can be contrasted with the character of his lover’s father, a testosterone-filled warrior who fought bravely for his people, and committed atrocities in doing so that caused him to be estranged him from his daughter. Outwardly, he appears strong, brave, noble, and heroic, if repressed and a tad rough around the edges. In reality his past experiences have left him broken and ruined inside. He is a tormented shell of the man he might have been had he approached life in a different way.
This is healthy fare, then, for men thinking about who they are and what their values should be, and for women thinking about interacting with men and what makes for a good man. Wherever you may come down on these matters as a reader, there is plenty to consider, because in the end Lazlo is revealed as a complex person who demonstrates as much genuine heroism as any other hero in literature.
Strange the Dreamer is categorized as a young adult novel, but it’s suitable for adults of any age. The lovers are Lazlo and Sarai. Lazlo is the main character, but it did not surprise me to learn that Laini Taylor originally envisioned a different main character for this book, and presumably that was Sarai. Sarai is the daughter of the Goddess of Despair and of a human man whom the goddess raped. The author stresses that one cannot learn about strangers by looking at them; Sarai has the gift of being able to look inside them, and it is this which drives the story, so I can see why Sarai would have made a compelling main character. Personally, I love complex supernatural characters, so I am sure I would have liked that.
But I think Ms. Taylor had to shift the focus more to Lazlo, because some of the most entrancing and beautiful parts of the book take place inside his dreams, where Sarai is a visitor. So instead of focusing on the trials and tribulations of a supernatural being whose existence is altered when an unusual human appears, this is more the story of a man’s gradual self-realization and personal growth.
I can also see why the author expanded the book, which she initially planned as a standalone novel, to a duology; having created a world so beautiful, one would want one's readers to linger in it. That is, after all, why we sometimes choose to read an extended story instead of simply watching a two-hour film or a TV show.
I would advise you not to worry if it initially feels like you’re not following the story. Go with the flow as in a dream, and you'll be rewarded as the events and characters coalesce and the story becomes clearer. Then you won’t want to put the book down.
This novel has a certain Romeo and Juliet-esque quality in that the lovers become progressively divorced from their own societies as they grow closer to one another. There are strong messages about control and freedom; the more certain characters seek to control others, the more rapidly the social orders upon which their control depends erode. This leads to some satisfaction as certain selfish or dysfunctional characters get their comeuppances, but it produces a running tension generated by hatred on both sides which goes unresolved. There are clear messages about the futility of ongoing conflict, war, and hate, as contrasted with the transcendence (and sometimes the tragedy) of love. The author goes out of her way not to trivialize death, and there are no deaths for entertainment. Death has consequences here, and those consequences play a major role in developing the story.
Naturally, dreams also play a major role: When societies collide, whose dreams control? Who dreams whom, and why, and how? This is a “Western society-meets-other society” fantasy, so as I was reading, it called to my mind the Adventures of Esplandián, the myth of El Dorado, and tales of the Fountain of Youth, in which Europeans invented fairy tale creatures and fanciful places while pondering life beyond the horizon.
Initially, Lazlo is destined to be a monk, presumably within Christendom, but as he heads east he encounters a polytheistic world. The pantheon is complicated there. Deities have their ups and downs, and their strengths and weaknesses. The eastern city is enmeshed in an ancient conflict which seems incapable of resolution. Its populations live in close proximity, but separately, and look upon one other with mutual hostility stemming from horrific events experienced during early conquests. In that sense this fantasy has a clear basis in reality and gives food for thought and reflection. The neglected city which Lazlo is driven to see for himself has been stricken by the Goddess of Oblivion, who has devoured its name. Now that no one can remember the city's name, its people call it Weep. This resonates with me within the context of the collision of cultures, in which conquerors have often sought to erase indigenous societies and to cast them into oblivion. Again, what happens to the dreams of the invaded?
My favorite quote from this novel encapsulates much of what it is ultimately about: “For what [are people] but the sum of all the scraps of their memor[ies] and experience[s]: a finite set of components with an infinite array of expressions[?]” In Strange the Dreamer, personalities are malleable, dreams are strange, strange is good, and the passions and obsessions that arise from our dreams are our destinies, rather than our choice....more