Strange the Dreamer

Some books are a reawakening. 

  • Author: Laini Taylor
  • Publisher: Little, Brown books
  • Year: 2017
  • Genre vibe: F A N T A S Y
  • At a glance: Lazlo Strange is an orphan and a librarian, dreaming of a city he only knows about because of the ravings of a dying monk and wondering at the touch of magic he once recieved when the city’s name was stolen from him as a child. Sarai is godspawn, living above this very city in secret with her sibllings, only hoping to never be found and killed like every other person she ever knew. In the end, Lazlo gets his dream. And also his nightmare. 

This is the year of “all of your favorite authors publishing new books”, and damn is it exciting. After Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch, Laini Taylor’s STRANGE THE DREAMER was my absolute most anticipated read for this year. I had the opportunity to hear her talk about the concept and some of the early ideas for the book a couple of years ago at a signing, and barely thought anything of it. “2017 is such a long ways away,” thought this disillusioned past version of me, “I don’t need to pay too much attention for a while” 

Well, past me, you should have paid more attention and anticipated harder, because this book now serves as a major contender for your favorite read of 2017, and holds a very very special place in your dark little heart. Go figure. 

So this book is a book about a guy who likes books and how reading fairy tales his whole life got him his dream: magic. At a glance this is the exact kind of book that the Linnea you all know and love would go “wow, no stereotypes for me!” and look for something darker. 

But here’s the thing: don’t let the sparkly cover and whimsical sounding concept fool you; this  book is really f-ing dark. And it’s amazing, heart wrenching, stomach-churning, and a whole lot of other -ing verbs. So what I’m here to talk about isnt’ necessarily the content or plot of the book so much as what it did for me, which is a bit out of color for this blog, but away we go. 

Immediately after finishing Strange the Dreamer I put a call out to my book-group asking if anyone would cry with me, and also got the chance to tell a friend of mine to read the book. In the process of recommending it, however, I felt myself clamming up. “I don’t want to talk about it“, I thought, even as I informed my friend how lovely the book was, and how emotional and impactful it was. “I don’t want to talk about it“. 

Because here’s the thing about this book: when the Big Bad Thing happened near the end and it all started to go downhill, and my heart started racing every now and then and I couldn’t read every single word because I was just so desperate to know what was going on…I realized why I love books. 

This was a trademark of this whole reading experience, if I’m honest. I don’t like books about people that have my labels (i.e. Fangirl), but Lazlo? He gets it, and not only does he get it, he embodies it. That this is the thing I literally get up in the morning for, that I live and breathe and suffer through other things to be able to do, Lazlo is a living monument to it. Laini Taylor’s writing, the atmosphere of it, the sheer difficulty of everything in this book is kind of just one long explanation of why I like books. 

Which sounds silly. But after I finished this and I was in the process of recommending it, I was struck by the realization that the extent to which I am always chasing that precise feeling–the finishing of a book that you just screamed at, and holding it close to treasure it for a bit longer–more than anything else. That’s why I write this stupid blog nobody reads, that’s why I write books of my own, that’s why I read and why I try to never be more than ten feet from a work of fiction. Because that feeling? That’s the single most important thing on this planet to me. 

So that’s why it was hard to recommend it. Because I know it will hit a lot of people hard, like it did me, because it’s an extremely emotional story and it’s got a lot of heady content and it’s meant to be a big deal. It’s meant to make you cry. Meant to make you feel injustice. It’s meant to make any book nerd the world over feel vindicated, in some way, shape or form. But in that it served as such a poignant reminder to me, it became difficult for me to recommend it to people that don’t chase that feeling, which, to be quite honest, feels a lot like complete and utter devastation. 

If I had my way, every book I read would make me scream about one thing or another. Everything would make my heart do that little wrung-out twist that hurts so badly. I would never stop finishing books that made me feel impacted

But a lot of people aren’t like that. And that’s good–beautiful, even, it’s in no way an invalid way to be a reader. The greater majority of people I know don’t read like that. They need to detox in between, let it sink in. This is good. It’s only that I chase this like a high, kind of, and that’s not an easily understood feeling–that I would just as soon read every “soul destroying” book on my shelf in quick succession as I would pick up something light and fluffy. 

So in short, this book is now extremely important to me both as a reader and as a person (which in my world are essentially the same thing), and it’s the kind of book that oughtnt be taken lightly, because wrapped up inside all its gorgeous Laini Taylor-ness and darkened whimsy and high-concept ideas are some things that are just the simplest form of true that could ever be. 

So this book is a lot of things. And it is:

  • 5/5 stars
  • for people who like clean-cut emotions, and being told why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. And magic and distress and dreams and most importantly: nightmares. Gods and monsters and how humans are both of these things, all the time. 
  • Stars. Smiles on the faces of loved ones. Tears, hot and unrelenting and neded–tears, cold and despondent and grey. 
  • Rolling Waves by The Naked and Famous.