Lyrical and haunting. Beautiful and tragic. Strange the Dreamer is a book that will leave you breathless.
“He listened the way a cactus drinks rain.”
This book is filled with gorgeous sentences, just like this. Even more, this is exactly how you will read this book. Gulping the words in frantic desperation trying to hold yourself back knowing that when it ends, you will have to hold in as much as you can until you can drink again.
This is a book that will sweep you away in its haunting beauty. You will lose yourself following Lazlo and Sarai as they dream their separate dreams.
Lazlo is an orphan, left abandoned to be raised in a monastery. Luck, or fate, leads him to a library, where he is content to read stories trying to solve the mystery of the Unseen City. A city lost for two hundred years. A city whose name was stolen. Lazlo, or Strange, is quite content to simply dream. Until his books are taken and a man named the Godslayer arrives. Fate it seems, has a much different plan.
Sarai, a Godspawn, a survivor, lives in the citadel high above the lost city of Weep. The name, stolen; the people, abandoned. She and her siblings live a meager life, surrounded by ghosts of the slaughter. All she wants is to live. To be left alone and not afraid. But the people below her believe them dead. Slaughtered with the rest. If they knew they were alive, fear and hatred would make survival impossible.
At the core of the book, we face the ultimate battle of good versus evil. The brilliance in the story, is that this battle is both literal and figurative. There is an evil lurking in and above the city of Weep, the Unseen City. But what is evil? And can it actually be fought?
Lazlo is a dreamer. He dreams beautiful dreams where anything is possible. Where you can turn your nightmares “into fireflies and catch them in jars.” Where love is possible. Peace is possible. Forgiveness is possible. But can those possibilities happen in real life? Or are they meant only for dreams?
As Lazlo enters the Unseen City, as he unravels the mystery keeping the citizens from the world, he begins to realize that life is more complicated than dreams. “Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice.” If a good person does a bad thing, does that make them bad?
Woven into this story, is heartbreak and hope, love and hate, wonder and despair. Each word battling its opposite, but also needing it. We need love to know hate. We need wonder to know despair. We need heartbreak to know hope.
Taylor takes us through each, giving us waves of good, followed by waves of bad. Back and forth, up and down. With each horrific truth uncovered, we see past the act, and into the humanity that sparked it. We are given the empathy to mourn the action and the result in tandem. Good and evil, intertwined in complex humanity.
We know in the beginning, that something shocking and terrible will happen. We know it, and forget, lost instead in the mystery and wonder of this world. We know it, and forget, not wanting to face the clues laid before us. We know it, and forget.
Yet, as we are swept to the end, we are forced to remember. As we realize that there are no easy answers, as we realize with mounting horror that tragedy is looming, we still cling to hope, to dreams.
The book ends, and we scream for the sequel. Like the cactus after rain, you are left sated yet wanting. Satisfied but still yearning for more.
Laini Taylor has a talent at making the reader see that nothing is black and white. Good and evil are words that don’t fit in nice tidy boxes. Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. And sometimes, bad things that happen to good people can turn them bad.
She also makes us examine the complex nature of good versus bad. We can’t have one without the other. We can’t be entirely good or entirely bad. They are interwoven, combined. One can’t exist without the other. And sometimes they can exist together.
It isn’t a case of creating a back story for a villain. Instead, we are given an alternative. That perhaps we are all capable of being turned into the villain. Or, conversely, that we are all capable of being turned into the hero. We see that words like fear, hate, evil, don’t exist in a vacuum. They are words born, created, evolved. The edges of these words are often blurred, making it difficult to see where they began, if they might end.
This book is made of magic. That special magic that transports the reader to the depths of their imagination. Read it and be swept away. Read it and fall in love. Read it and experience heartbreak.
It’s been weeks since I finished, and still I can’t get the stunning imagery out of my head. I can’t walk away from the characters and events of this book.
I feel that words simply cannot encapsulate this book. It is a book to be experienced, not just read. It is more than a compilation of words, it is beauty incarnate.
This book is haunting. It will haunt you. Though, isn’t that all we can ask a good book do?