Written by Shuvern Yeoh
Strange the Dreamer
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2017
“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”
“Beautiful and full of monsters?”
“All the best stories are.”
This is a young adult fantasy novel and is the first book in a series written by Laini Taylor. Lazlo Strange, our protagonist of the book, like his namesake is a known as a peculiarity in his society of intellectuals. He is obsessed with the fabled city of Weep which has been lost to legend ever since its isolation from the rest of the world due to mysterious circumstances.
This book has been flashing all over my newsfeed and has been all the rage with book reviewers on Youtube, Goodreads, you name it. So, like any other bibliophile with a limited spending allowance, I made the sensible decision and drove straight to the bookstore, grabbed a copy for myself and finished the book within a span of 4 days. And thus, brings me to this point in time: broke, happy and writing a review. This was my first time reading Laini Taylor’s work, and she is the real deal. I salute authors who can conjure up their own fantastical worlds and cultures in their stories and Taylor is no exception. The book is one-of-a-kind, with diverse and imaginative settings of contrasting elements, for example: the gray and somber Zemonan Abbey where Lazlo grew up as a child, the vast and arid expanse of desert which Lazlo and his companions journey across, the hustle and bustle and golden grandiose of the city of Zosma, and the lustrous metallic gleam of the floating Mesarthim citadel that shadows the city of Weep.
The book is hefty (about 532 pages to be exact), but do not let that fool you. The story is fast-paced and before you know it, you’d be staring at the ‘to be continued’ end line in disbelief. The immersive storyline, told in various characters’ perspective makes the book even more addictive and interesting. The thoughts of the different characters in the same situation and setting give a glimpse into their personalities, breathing life into the characters and giving them depth, propelling the telling of the story to new heights.
The theme of the book is also heartbreaking and sadly true. After reading the whole book, I actually had an epiphany, a Eureka moment of sorts after discovering the truth written between the lines. How Taylor managed to weave it into the story was no easy feat. To put it simply, the theme is ‘hate sows hate’. The cruel act of the Mesarthim who enslaved the citizens of Weep and made them do unspeakable things, was like an ember fanned into flame, which caused the Tizerkane to rebel against them, leading to the Mesarthim’s downfall. Decades later, the survivors of that slaughter, the children of the Mesarthim are out for revenge against the Tizerkane. In the book, the author also uses subtle metaphors to convey this theme in the form of the tattoos the women of Weep have, of either a snake devouring itself or a branch of cherry blossoms entwined, usually circular in shape, signifying a cycle. The tattooed cycles used to signify the renewal of life, but now only seems like a cycle of death and hatred. Sorrow and pain.
I need only one word to describe this book: masterpiece. It has all the elements a good fantasy novel should have: high stakes conflict, unique magical powers, descriptive and picturesque settings and an intriguing power system or government. This book is an amazing addition to anyone’s library. But fair warning to those who want to give this book a try, be prepared to face sleepless nights. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.