Strange the Dreamer
by Laini Taylor
4.5 stars, actually.
In mostly alternating POV (with occasional slips into a more omniscient, poetic narrator) we get the converging tales of Lazlo Strange, foundling, raised in a Library, head so full of dusty fairy tales that he literally contains not a selfish or evil thought in his body. The biggest fairy tale of them all is his obsession: The Unseen City, also called Weep, whose mysterious caravaners have not ridden out from the desert in years. His obsession leads to Lazlo wholly immersing himself in the bits of language and culture still preserved in books. We also get the story of Sarai, who screams moths each night that fly down from some citadel where Sarai is more or less hiding/imprisoned with four capricious siblings to land on the skin of sleeping humans below. She dreams their dreams. She makes them nightmares.
Like all of Taylor’s work, this is gorgeous, poetic prose layered on top of a story skeleton of horrific cruelty. There is great damage done to the residents of Weep, and thus great, angsty, awful drama for Lazlo and Sarai despite both of them being innocent of those crimes (although Lazlo is more innocent than Sarai).
There’s a kind of pulsing beauty to the way Taylor circles around and around the heart of that great crime until we can’t help but realize who Sarai is, and what that means to Lazlo and the band of travelers he is with. Per usual, the side characters here are a varied, quirky lot many of whom most likely could star in their own tragic drama as well. Sometimes that circling gets a little wearisome when we know, for example, how much the humans hate Sarai and her siblings, or how little concrete daily actions we get of Lazlo’s travels and instead are only told in storyteller tale fashion afterwards of the journey.
The ending cuts off suddenly after the most dramatic revelation of them all, so I’ll definitely have to read the second of this duology because not only does the main central question of the story (how to reconcile the humans below with Sarai’s siblings above) remain, but also the main romantic tension as well.
Still, as Taylor’s writing tends to be, this is lovely and heart-wringing, and its is easy to forgive meandering and vagueness in the story because the journey is so painfully sweet.