BOOK REVIEW: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Hodder & Stoughton
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
So many died that the tumbrils used to cart thieves to the gallows were repurposed to carry orphans to the monasteries and convents. They arrived live shipments of lambs, to hear the monks tell it, and with no more knowledge of their provenance than lambs, either. Some were old enough to know their names at least, but Lazlo was just a baby, and an ill one, no less.
Lazlo, an orphan of war, has always dreamed of far off places. Of adventure, and magic, and a place whose name was stolen from the world.
As for the name of the vanished city, it had vanished, too. Lazlo would always remember the feel of it in his mind, though. It had felt like calligraphy, if calligraphy were written in honey, and that was as close to it as he – or anyone – could come. It wasn’t just him and Brother Cyrus. Wherever the name had been found – printed on the spines of books that held its stories, in the old, yellowed ledgers of merchants who’d bought its goods, and woven into the memories of anyone who’d ever heard it – it was simply erased, and Weep was left in its place.
When Lazlo is a teenager, he is sent with a shipment of books to The Great Library after the monks who would normally make such deliveries are left unable to do so, thanks to some bad fish.
The Great Library was no mere place to keep books. It was a walled city for poets and astronomers and every shade of thinker in between. It encompassed not only the vast archives, but the university, too, together with laboratories and glasshouses, medical theaters and music rooms, and even a celestial observatory.
He never does return to the abbey.
He was found days later by a senior librarian, but only because the man was looking for him, a letter from the abbot in the pocket of his robes. Elsewise, Lazlo might have lived down there like a boy in a cave for who knows how long. He might have grown feral: the wild boy of the Great Library, versed in three dead languages and all the tales every written in them, but ragged as a beggar in the alleys of the Grin.
“The library knows its own mind,” Old Master Hyrrokkin told him, leading him back up the secret stairs. “When it steals a boy, we let it keep him.”
Strange the Dreamer is a hard book to pin down. It’s part fairytale, part myth, part dreamscape, and there are elements here that would be at home in an historical drama. There’s romance, and laughter, and stories galore, and quite a few monsters, to be sure.
Lazlo had not entered a theory into the book. “There couldn’t possibly be an idea left unclaimed,” he said.
“Well, there’s not a boring one left unclaimed, that’s for certain. If I hear one more manly variation on the conquest theory theory I might kill myself. But you can do better. I know you can. You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbably,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”
“Beautiful and full of monsters?”
“All the best stories are.”
This book is something of a love letter to dreamers and those who love books and stories, and it offers a world so well-built that the idea it doesn’t exist seems ludicrous.
There is a kind of poetry in the fact that readers of Strange the Dreamer will long to discover that Weep is real, just as Lazlo himself has done for so many years.
The book itself is physically beautiful, and is worth owning even if you do nothing more than gaze at its beauty, but that would be a terrible waste of a stunning story, a 530 page book that will open you up and climb inside, filling in all the gaps until the lost city of Weep sings in your blood and in your spirit.
Strange the Dreamer is best stepped into blindly, in order to let the world within these pages was over you, but suffice it to say that this hesitant fantasy reader loved the crap out of this fantasy inspired story, and I cannot wait for book two.
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