Strange the Dreamer Book cover

That is one fine looking cover. Do book covers belong to the author they enclose or the artist made them? Or should we thank the publisher who brought them together? Books are a collaborative effort, if less so than film. If you judged books by their covers you might think moths are important to Strange the Dreamer. You'd be right, in more ways than one.

Strange the Dreamer is one half of a Duology by Laini Taylor. It concerns Lazlo Strange, a poor, downbeat orphan who by chance and effort goes on to live out far more of his dreams than he ever thought possible. It also concerns a blue skinned goddess and her gradual entanglement with Strange the Dreamer. Of course there's also Weep, the Unseen City, mythical home of gods.

I'll admit the start didn't grab me. The book began mostly about Strange and his zero-to-hero rise. If you've read one such story you've read them all. He's an orphan, raised by uncaring monks, he's beaten regularly, has no friends, finds refuge in dreams of being a great warrior, etc. This is punctuated by the usual worldbuilding insertions, mostly about Weep. Only when Thyon Nero enters the story did it become something greater. However while the origin story was dull it did at least amount to pay-off in the moment when Strange finally steps forward and asks to join the expedition.

It's in the middle that the story became most gripping. There the world of Sarai, the blue goddess opens up and begins to tie into the greater narrative. There the characters surpass their understated introductions and become people with thoughts and feelings. The expedition hosts an eclectic bunch of fascinating people from mathematicians to climbers and it they who round out the story. By the time they arrived at Weep I was invested and wanted to see where the plot was going. Taylor is adept at the slow burn, building her world like a jigsaw puzzle, pieces slotting into place and making apparent a bigger picture. The narrative was truly enjoyable.

Until the end. The ending of this book was a very definite cliffhanger, in the style of the Empire Strikes Back. However that's not a problem. A problem is how the ending completely undermines the theme the story had been building of how humans and gods can bridge the gap between them. It does this in such a way that I re-evaluated my initial misgivings about the start of the book and decided I might have been on the money the first time. Normally I'm happy to spoil twists but in this case I'll leave it out in favour of vociferously criticising what was both a cliche and a deus ex machina.

Unfortunately it doesn't end there. The ending also felt like a forced cliffhanger as it required multiple characters to act contrary to what they knew making them appear downright idiotic, not to mention destroying the sympathy the prose had been building for the antagonist. Finally one minor character, Drave, seemed very mistreated in a narrative where no one is black and white and everyone has a sympathetic side. It seems like he was also suddenly an idiot so that the plot could rush to the cliffhanger ending and then summarily dispensed with.

There's other quibbles but they're minor. The thief in the expedition disappeared from the ending. not even a mention after she was one of the most memorable characters. The main romance felt rushed and self-indulgent. Taylor is one for purple prose but I'd enjoyed the book enough that I hadn't noticed it till then. These are small things, easily fixed by a nip here and an extra line there. They wouldn't spoil the book so it's unfortunate that the ending did that for me.

Some stories you start with the ending and have to write how to get there. Others you come up with characters and make up a plot off their interactions. There's a dozen ways to write a story and it can be difficult to maintain consistency no matter which way you write. Uneven books can succeed despite themselves. It's unfortunate then that Strange the Dreamer had to have a weak beginning and a bad ending because it means I forget the quite good middle. I might check out the second half of the duology, it's the dreamer's right to dream.

No comments

Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.
BBCode format allowed