Book review: Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares

I have a new favorite author. Laini Taylor writes YA fantasy novels of unexpected magic, detailed characterization, romance, and adventure. Strange the Dreamer and its sequel, Muse of Nightmares, are her most recent, and I am hooked. If you like soaring, imaginative epics grounded in realistic, complex emotion, you will be too.

In Strange the Dreamer, Lazlo Strange is given the same surname as all orphans of war by the monks who raise them. Unlike the other orphans, however, little Lazlo cultivates a rich imaginative life, fantasizing about the faraway city of Weep, which most people believe is a fairy tale. But not Lazlo. When he becomes a librarian, he seeks clues among dusty legends and crumbling papers to prove Weep existed–and may still.

Holding fast to his dreams, Lazlo embarks on a journey as part of a ragtag group of travelers to locate and restore the lost city. When he dreams of a haunted, blue girl who seems as real as he is–and is surprised that he can see her, too–he must solve the mystery of who she is and how to find her. For Sarai, however, Lazlo’s attention threatens everything she has been raised to believe, and possibly her very existence.

Dramatized in unexpected ways with lyrical (and sometimes funny) language, the impossible romance between Lazlo and Sarai (experienced through dreams, of course) is a sweet and inspiring example of how love can change hearts, minds, and futures. Echoing Romeo and Juliet, but with magical powers, hideous secrets, and broken warriors in an alternate world, Strange the Dreamer explores the joys and sacrifices of love in a dangerous time.

Muse of Nightmares picks up exactly where Strange the Dreamer ends, raising the stakes even higher. Not only are Lazlo and Sarai’s lives at stake, the entire city is preparing for war with the newfound inhabitants who look like the gods who tormented them for 200 years. And yet…more secrets, dramas, and players explode onto the scene, each determined to right their own wrongs, no matter what cost.

Each character is so marvelously complex, the reader empathizes with the suffering and fury of individuals on opposing sides of the struggle, making it difficult to say who is “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad.” Some of them have seen–and committed–such horrors, hope seems impossible. Yet the theme of redemption rings like a bell throughout the novel, championing the resilient capacity for hope, love, and dreams as the path through the hate that binds them all.

With as dramatic a conclusion as any superhero flick or epic supernatural drama, Muse of Nightmares examines how good and evil can be relative, and love and forgiveness–and dreams–can build a better future. Check out this series. You won’t be disappointed!

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