I hope you’ll take a moment and go on a journey through the wonderfully creative Strange the Dreamer… I may have some unusual opinions to share in this review but please, come along and learn a little about storycraft…
Strange the Dreamer
Strange the Dreamer #1
by Laini Taylor
Published March 28th 2017
by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Lazlo Strange has been drawn to the mythic city of Weep since he felt the name of that lost city plucked from his brain. Good fortune brought him up from orphan to junior librarian where he could study all he wanted about his obsession. When a man called the Godslayer appears with a band of warriors he knows he must step forward or lose his dream forever. After a blue-skinned goddess invades his dreams everything changes for this strange dreamer…
This book inspired much conflict in me…
While I enjoyed much of what I learned about Lazlo in the course of the setup (which ended at 16% or 50% depending how you look at it) SOOO much of it was telling (MOST OF IT!) that it became tedious and a slog rather that building anticipation of what was to come. By all means introduce Lazlo and his dream but we didn’t need to know every detail of his back history before he even leaves the library!! Strange the Dreamer was the focus so we could/should have been learning all about the details of what makes him, him as we went along not crammed up in the beginning.
We could have learned about his time with the monks when he shared his history with Eril-Fane. We could have learned about his history with Nero when Calixte noticed their mutual avoidance in the caravan. It didn’t have to be all through dialouge, there can be telling too but in the right moment not just smooshed in the beginning.
Many of the problems with the setup could have been alleviated by making the Godslayer’s arrival nearer the beginning of the book instead of the end of setup (16%). By doing this it forces other places in the story to be developed to reveal Lazlo back history. Combine this change with a dedicated POV (with Eril-Fane) and there could have been this lovely balanced flow and connection between current events and the back history that informs those events (i.e. showing character through action!!)
The prose… it is purple and beautiful, there are some really special turns of phrase that inspire the imagination. Then there is the heavy, syrupy nature of the narrative. Even when very little is happening it feels like everything is monumental and huge even though plot and events are almost non-existent. It creates this unbalanced backup of words where fewer would have served the story better. This causes the emotions to be all flat, not because there is no emotion but because it all registers with exactly the same weight.
The syrupy nature of the prose also hurt the romance. Do you know that feeling when you first meet someone and its electric…? You almost feel zapped by an invisible current… it’s not love because you don’t know the person but it’s as if the universe is trying to get you to see that person could be someone HUGE is your life. Yeah this feeling is what spawned the idea of love at first sight. Because if you pursue those impressions they can turn into love but if you are impeded from pursuing those feelings then it can be a tragedy. This kind of budding relationship is explored in this story but because of the syrupy language it felt like instalove instead of the very real feelings of personal attraction.
Instead of relying on tons of telling covered in lyrical and purple prose, changing the focus to current events would have done wonders to an already creative world and premise. By only drawing in back history where it is pertinent to current events and adding lyrical prose when the emotions dictate it in the moment events, people and relationships would have driven the story.
At 50% I noted: “I wish the POVs had been chosen better to contrast each other. We got too much Sarai in the beginning and so I have little love for her… whereas if she had been contrasted by Minya earlier I would give her more of a chance. Balance and editing is what this book lacks. The beginning needs to be seriously rewritten! It really is a stinker… While I like Lazlo, too much time was spent on establishing him.”
I totally enjoy 3rd person POV but am not a fan of omniscient. I don’t like jumping into a character here and there when it suits the author. Especially in this case the POVs felt random and wide spread like they were being used to fill in story holes… I want dedicated time in specific POVs. I did LOVE Lazlo’s POV once we got to it and away from the telling. I admire that I was made to care about Lazlo and how he rose to the occasion in the name of his dream. No one can take his grasp of their language from him even though they stole his knowledge.
While I LOVE Sarai as a character I did not enjoy the constant whining and moaning while I was reading her POV. I feel like I would have loved her MORE if we NEVER experienced her POV. At the very least the whining moments could have reduced and instead we split the pages with Minya’s POV. This would have helped me relate to what Sarai was fighting against and I could have sympathized with Sarai more.
In any case I adored what little of Minya’s POV I got. She was by far the BEST POV (with all her roiling shame and disgust) and I so wanted/craved more of it!
In fact I would have totally shifted everything around in the story to focus on Lazlo’s and Minya’s POVs exclusively, with Eril-Fane as the 3rd to represent the town’s collective viewpoint. This would have created a trifecta of POVs where a little creative writing (instead of purple prose) would have driven how and when things naturally should be revealed.
To deal with the shift of POVs I propose Minya be made Sarai’s BFF. This would make it so that Sarai would naturally share her dream experiences with Minya. We could have learned how Sarai fell for Lazlo through Minya’s eyes and her feelings about all she’s missed out on.
POV is MAJORLY important!! Sometimes how we start is not the right choice but is a great way to discover how a character feels and thinks.
I quite loved the characters even though they had flaws in their execution and weren’t utilized in the plot very well…
Lazlo was hands down my favorite character. Probably because I could see and understand his role in the story so even though he was annoyingly Gary Stu at times I could accept that he could still affect the world despite that being his character most of the time.
Eril-Fane was terribly intriguing but we didn’t get enough time spent in his POV for me to believe what he was feeling… I don’t want to give anything away but I don’t think his character was taken far enough…
Sarai was someone I wanted to totally love and in many ways I totally fell for her and her POV as a sympathetic enemy. I loved and adored her moths and her fear of how they come and go. I just couldn’t stand her whining. This made it hard to relate to Sarai at times but then other times I really wished her happy. This could be another time where the purple prose took emotions too far…
Minya was by far my favorite character. I wanted to know more about her from the moment I met her… This is the kind of morally ambiguous character I crave!! I wanted to see her have actual relationships with her siblings and not just be secluded as if to keep from having to develop the character more.
Thyon Nero was too much focused on in the story, he got too much page time at the expense of other more fascinating characters… still a nicely formed character from his back history to his relationship with Lazlo!
Minor Characters… There is great characterization here, just some balance issues with the major characters.
Azareen was a character I wanted to see from Eril-Fane’s POV… getting her POV was unnecessary to me as her feelings were noted by Lazlo (i.e. shown and then noted by a POV character for once!) She was a great back history character…
Suheyla was another character I loved! (Eril-Fane’s mother) She gave us a rich view of her son and a sense of the time span that this has been going on…
Calixte was a creative and fascinating character I had hoped to see A LOT more of, but instead was left on the sidelines to molder. At least I wanted to see her skills utilized. I felt most of the others brought to Weep to help were red herrings rather than necessary characters.
The Tizerkane warriors were also fascinating and I wish they played more of a part than filler during their journey to weep. They could have easily wheedled from Lazlo his back history rather than all the telling in the beginning.
I wasn’t conflicted about… The Creativity!!
LOVED the premise that starts with Lazlo the strange dreamer and the part he plays in the lives of ALL who live in Weep. I can see the long range story and am not too terribly disappointed in how this premise has played out. Creativity is streaming off this story and its world and events in humbling rivers – if only the writing and story craft were all equally well developed.
I enjoyed the plot immensely… it took FOREVER to get to the main deal but once we did I liked the point of the story. I won’t say much here about it because of spoilers but once we get to Weep the plot took off like a rabbit. (If this latter part of the story started sooner the whole beginning could have been woven into the action!)
I totally enjoyed the world. From Lazlo’s library to the heeps of demon bones to the citadel and Weep. I loved the idea of godspawn and the rich back history of Weep and its people. Even the groups differing cities were given some richness. The magic system with the godspawn is quite compelling and a part of the story I enjoyed the most. I totally want to understand their parents’ purpose!
Unfortunately the end went down EXACTLY as I thought it would… Lazlo is who I’ve thought since he arrived in Weep… I like being so “smart” (surely most readers realized all this too?!) but I’d prefer to be wowed…
BOTTOM LINE: Creative, Creative, Creative… read it for that alone!!
Did you love Strange the Dreamer? Do you adore purple prose?
I’m really excited to announce my first ever, Talking Spoilers feature!! My first book will be… Strange the Dreamer!! Please come and share your spoiler thoughts!!
Please note that my ideas under My Thoughts as a Writer are things that I would do if I was the writer, not things that I expect Laini Taylor to do! Most published authors are under tight deadlines and extensive rewrites are not possible. These are merely speculation for the learning of reader and writer!!