“His books were not his dream. Moreover, he had tucked his dream into their pages like a bookmark, and been content to leave it there for too long. The fact was: Nothing he might ever do or read or find inside the Great Library of Zosma was going to bring him one step closer to Weep. Only a journey would do that.”
From his childhood as an orphan in a monastery, to his young adulthood as a junior library apprentice, Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with the lost city of Weep. For thousands of years, magical goods crossed the Elmuthaleth desert to be traded, but no faranji was ever allowed to see the city from whence they came, on pain of death. But two hundred years ago, all trade suddenly ceased without explanation. Once, Weep had another name, but fifteen years ago it was snatched from the minds of the few who remembered the city at all, including Lazlo, whose obsession was only deepened by the loss. Now a hero from Weep, known as the Godslayer, has emerged from the Elmuthaleth, seeking the best scientists to join a delegation that will help the city solve the last remnant of the problem that halted trade for two hundred years. But what use could such a delegation have for a mere junior librarian who has studied Weep all his life, and yet undoubtedly knows less about it than anyone who was raised there?
In beautiful prose that will be familiar to fans of her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, Laini Taylor brings to life a vivid new fantasy world that didn’t so much capture my imagination as take it hostage, until I stayed up far too late to reach the last page, and find out what would become of Lazlo, Sarai, and the people of Weep. Taylor opens with Lazlo, the orphan who will take us on our journey into the unknown. After spending his childhood in a monastery, Lazlo escapes to the Great Library of Zosma, and a career as a librarian. In his world, librarians are the mere servants of the aristocratic scholars, expected to keep knowledge, but never to discover it. But Lazlo is forever tripping over that line, particularly in his somewhat antagonistic relationship with Thyon Nero, golden son of Zosma, and the only alchemist who has ever produced gold. The other perspective belongs to Sarai, a girl who lives a strange secluded life with four other children, but dreams of the city of Weep every night.
To say too much more is to spoil Taylor’s careful parsing out of information, which kept me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how it all fit together. Some have described this as a slow start to Strange the Dreamer, but I was intent on soaking up her beautiful world-building and getting to know the various characters. The Godslayer refuses to tell the delegation what problem they will be charged with solving when they arrive in Weep, and so the chapters that are introduced from the perspective of Sarai and her sisters have a foreshadowing quality, revealing intriguing information, and yet remaining maddeningly coy and removed. As the delegation crosses the Elmuthaleth, the climber and acrobat Calixte starts a wager about the problem that awaits their combined skills in Weep, and I found myself placing similar bets as Taylor slowly unspools her story.
Strange the Dreamer is the kind of book where the author writes herself into difficult situations, but makes bold choices with the consequences. While originally planned as a standalone, it is now a duology, so the book ends with a twist that leaves the protagonists in a seemingly impossible situation. If I have one reservation, it is that I don’t see how Taylor can write herself out of this one without jumping the shark. But perhaps I have too little faith. Whatever Muse of Nightmares delivers, Strange the Dreamer is magnificent in its own right. I’d be mad at myself for waiting this long to read it, if not for the fact that I can now go read the sequel immediately.
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