Strange the Dreamer, Romantic and Morally Complex, Is Laini Taylor at Her Best

Laini Taylor’s bestselling Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy offered readers a lushly romantic and heart-wrenchingly tense tale of a war spanning worlds and lifetimes. Where that series was largely about the mechanisms and harsh realities of an ongoing conflict, her wildly anticipated follow-up, Strange the Dreamer, tackles instead the aftermath of toppling a violent, devastating regime. With this opener to a new duology, Taylor has managed to create an even more emotionally and morally complex story, told with all the delicate yet dense beauty and aching, star-crossed romance that have become her signatures.

Lazlo Strange is a junior librarian, a position that holds no respect or prospects, but does allow him to be surrounded by endless, beloved books. Even better, it affords him the opportunity to research the mystery of Weep, a near-mythic city that’s been lost for centuries. He’s been obsessed with Weep since his orphaned childhood and is now the foremost expert on the topic. His curiosity marks him a fool to everyone else, though, a dreamer caught up in ridiculous fairy tales.

When an envoy from Weep itself arrives, headed by a man known as the Godslayer, seeking help with some massive but unnamed problem, Lazlo finally has the chance to answer all his many questions—even if he has to cross half a world to do it. But he discovers that there are only ever more mysteries waiting in Weep.

To describe the plot in any more detail would be to steal the joy of discovery from you, and I refuse to be so cruel. Suffice it to say that Weep is a city of dead gods and broken people, strange magic and unfathomable pain, wonder and terror and often both entwined.

There are no villains here, not truly—or maybe it’s more accurate to say that there are only people with the capacity for villainy and heroism both, and that the line between the two is little more than a comforting illusion. That’s what gives Strange the Dreamer its immense power. This book asks what happens after evil has been vanquished, and what does the cost of vanquishing demand of those who survive? What is pure survival worth after all? Should we dare dream of more?

Taylor explores these complex themes and this distressing but beautiful world through a host of fully realized characters: Lazlo, of course, the dreamer. The blue-skinned girl, powerful and powerless. The Godslayer, a man who has chosen to bear so many unbearable weights. And every person connected to them in this web of fraught and shifting relationships. Again, I hesitate to offer more details. Better that you meet them on their terms, in their own time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the varied and gorgeous romances here as well. The one at the book’s core is written with particular deftness. If you found yourself longing and hurting and loving along with Karou and Akiva in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, I’d venture to say you’ll be even more invested here. A lofty claim, I know, but it was certainly true for me.

Strange the Dreamer is a book that demands to be savored. Every sentence is a gift, every character a triumph, every page a masterful display of both talent and skill. Taylor has absolutely outdone herself, and I cannot wait for the sure-to-be brilliant conclusion to this stunning series opener.

Strange the Dreamer goes on sale March 28, and is available for pre-order now.

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