544 pages| Hodder & Stoughton | YA Fantasy
When I first read Strange the Dreamer a number of months ago, I ended up giving it a rating of 5/5. On reflection, I’m revising that score down to 4/5 as it is just not as memorable as a true 5/5 needs to be for me.
The new rating reflects how much fun I had reading the novel but also takes into account some of less than stellar aspects which are more obvious now. Read below to see exactly what I did and did not enjoy about Strange the Dreamer.
The digest: this book is popular for a reason. Taylor tells a truly intriguing story whilst avoiding overuse of the standard YA tropes. It’s not perfect but it is definitely worth a look for anyone after a YA novel with strong worldbuilding.
From the book’s Goodreads page:
“The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?
The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?
Welcome to Weep.”
I was originally hesitant in picking this book up – YA is not what I usually go for and there was so much hype surrounding it that I felt it would be a repeat of Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses (which I really didn’t like).
This hesitancy was unfounded, however, as whilst Strange the Dreamer isn’t the perfect 5/5 book many people claim, it is still a stellar YA novel which manages to work past the traditional tropes of the genre.
What did I enjoy?
- I haven’t read many books which so heavily feature a library and librarian(s). Of course, as a lover of books, I found myself right at home in this setting and wished it had lasted a bit longer.
- The worldbuilding is a lot better than most other YA books I have read. Even for wider fantasy novels, the worldbuilding here is excellent. Some reviewers are shocked (positively) by Taylor’s use of a new mythology and seem to think that she’s the first (YA) author to do so. These reviewers are wrong. Taylor does, however, present a more convincing selection of lore surrounding her worldbuilding that other authors.
- The geographical locations are also nicely varied, and work well with the different abilities of the different characters present.
- There is a rather large cast of characters which are integral to the plot. I found myself genuinely invested in a handful of them which is a rare occurrence when it comes to me and YA:
- The antagonist of the novel is as frustrating as Joffrey in A Game of Thrones (TV show) but toned down for YA audience.
- There is not necessarily a clear idea of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ – there is ambiguity in the narrative which really did help to draw me in.
- There’s a small romance element which is rather successfully blended into the larger narrative. Unlike some other YA novels, this romance isn’t too cringe-inducing at all.
- Multiple points of view are well-handled here and actually helps to tell a more cohesive story – not all authors can manage this.
- The story is about as compelling as YA Fantasy gets (for me, at least). There are plenty of secrets and other mysteries to discover, a fair bit of action, magic seemingly everywhere but also unattainable, and the relationships between a few of the main characters really work to bring make the plot mean something.
- The magical abilities of certain characters are rather unique – something difficult to achieve with the market saturation of fantasy.
What was less than stellar?
- The pacing was… questionable. The opening of the novel seems to go on for quite a whilst longer than needed, and the conclusion seems to be a bit too fast-paced in comparison.
- There seems to be an awful lot of filler between important events which simply does not need to exist.
- Whilst the cast of characters is rather large, it would have been better for Taylor to cull the numbers a bit and more fully develop a more select group.
As usual, I have been vague in my review as to not spoil the story for anyone yet to read the novel.
4/5. This is a compelling YA fantasy novel with heaps of originality and well-crafted storytelling, only slightly hindered by plot issues and a fair bit of padding. I will definitely be picking up the sequel, Must of Nightmares, in 2019 and as long as that is as good as this one (which I’m led to believe it is) then I will keep up with the rest of the series, too.