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Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (plus a rant about trilogies)

The book that ruined YA trilogies for me was Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. I read it not knowing that it was the first book of a yet-unfinished trilogy, and I got to the end (and was left totally hanging) and was so annoyed that I decided then and there that if a book is the first in a trilogy, I’m going to wait to read it until all of the books are finished.

(The strange thing about this is I was never annoyed by having to wait for the next Harry Potter book. Tingling with anticipation, yes. But never annoyed. I think that’s because the whole world was waiting with me and so part of the Harry Potter experience became the waiting. But it’s also because each book has its own denument that works in conjunction with the longer story arc; you finished, say, The Prisoner of Azkaban knowing who Sirius was and seeing him safely off on Buckbeak, with the knowledge that Harry would be waiting out the summer at the Dursley’s house while you waited for the next novel. Sure, you didn’t know what Voldemort would do next, but that part of the story was wrapped up.)

Despite hype, despite my Official Librarian Responsiblities ™, despite terrible, desperate yearnings to read something new, I’ve mostly stuck to my decision. I read Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle thinking sweet, an-already finished trilogy! Except it is actually a tetralogy (four books). I read a few first-in-an-unifinished-trilogy novels when I was doing my presentations at Life, the Universe, and Everything (The Queen of the Tearling falls into that category). But on the whole, I’ve waited for finished trilogies.

I do this mostly because it feels difficult to get back into a story line when a year (or two, or three) has passed, and I’ve found myself going back to reread the first book. This need to re-read frustrates me because there are just so many books I want to read, and I don’t have all day for reading (alas!), so I have to use my reading time efficiently. Partly it’s because of the cliff-hanging ending that’s become so popular. When I finish I am dying to know what happened, but by the time the next book comes out, the energy is lost. If I wait for the third book, I can read all three in a row, without forgetting important details or waiting to see what happened (and then not remembering why I cared).

But here’s the thing: you don’t always know that a book will be the first in a trilogy. Especially when you start it and get sucked in immediately, and it only dawns on you as you draw closer to the end of the book and start realizing there is no way this will be resolved before the end.

Strange the dreamer
This is the British cover, which I like much better than the US version

Take Laini Taylor’s new book, Strange the Dreamer. I’ll tell you right away that I love Laini Taylor. Her Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is one of my favorite YA fantasies. I like her books because they are fantasy that isn’t just reinterpreting the same old motifs or creatures or Tolkien or mythology or whatever. They’re unique creations that still feel real.

So when I heard she had a new book coming out, I really didn’t care what it was about. I just requested it from the library in the hopes that I could be the first on the hold list. (I was, alas, not. I had to wait for four people to read it before me!)

I did read just a little, something about it being about a foundling who becomes a librarian, and a fantastical, beautiful library, and alchemy, and then I just wanted to read it even more.

Strange the Dreamer is about Lazlo Strange, who was adopted by monks as an infant, after his parents were killed in a war. He has always, as long as he remembered, been fascinated by the vanished city of Weep, which used to have a different name that has been forgotten by the world. There are stories about Weep, but only a few: the mighty Tizerkane warriors whose battle-rage is fueled by the bite of a scorpion, and the magical blood candy that can give immortality, and the beautiful architecture of the city. A lucky twist sends young Lazlo to the Great Library of Zosma, where he finds a room filled with books of fantastical stories, some of them about Weep. The librarians recognize him for one of their own, and when he is not working in the library he is reading stories. And it is a hint in one of these stories that lets his whole world break open when something fantastic happens: A delegation of people, including the Godslayer, arrives in Zosma from the city of Weep.

I just loved this book. It reminded me just the smallest bit of Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, what with the forgotten name of the city, and a little bit of The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemison, what with the battle between gods and humans. (Side note: N. K. Jemison's newest trilogy is being wrapped up this summer, and as I've followed my rule on it, I get to read all three in a row. Can't wait!)  But, like her other trilogy, it felt unique and incomparable. I loved both of the main characters, Lazlo and a girl named Sarai. I loved the mythos and world building, the way magic is used and the imagery about the city of Weep. If I had to complain about something, it is that sometimes contemporary language structure from our world seeped into Weep and it always jarred me out of the story, but that is a small thing I don’t think many people will notice in a book that is both entertaining and thoughtful, that illuminates the power and influence that story has in our lives. Yep: I loved it.

Except, you know: I didn’t read enough about it to know that yes, it is the first book in a trilogy.

And it’s not like it’s a difficult thing to share with the reader. It’s as simple as adding a line to the cover: The first book in the __________________ trilogy.

If I had known that I still would’ve tried to be the first reader on the hold list. I would’ve broken my own rule and read it anyway because A—it’s my own rule and B—I love Laini Taylor. But I would’ve read it a little bit differently. Maybe less quickly, more thoughtfully, storing up ideas, clues, and hypotheses. Or maybe just prepared for a cliff hanger.

Because it does end with a cliff hanger.

So! If you are unlike me, and unfinished trilogies just aren’t a big deal to you, but if you are like me and you love & adore a really good YA fantasy…go get your name on the hold list for Strange the Dreamer.

(spoilers follow after this lovely illustration of Sarai, which I copied from Laini Taylor’s blog.)

Sarai with moths

Since it will undoubtedly be a few years before the next book, here’s a summary of how this first book ends:

Lazlo saved the city from Drave’s bomb by discovering he is also half-God and that his power is controlling mesarthium. He righted the palace and reshaped Rasalas. Sarai fell and died, but Minya captured her soul before she vanished—but she is controlling Lazlo through Sarai with the threat that if he doesn’t do what she wants him to, she will let Sarai’s soul go. The city is not fond of Lazlo’s transformation, but the alchemist had already figured it out.


Andrea Baugh

I put a hold on it!!!! Thank you for the recommendation.


Lol I am exactly like you, won't read unless all the books are out except i read Laini's book because come on it's Laini Taylor!! She came to speak at my local bookstore and was interviewed by Jandy Nelson and since I love them both, I was in the front row! :)

Shirley Macdougall

I feel your pain. I did this with book one of a series by Patrick Rothfuss who has since published book 2 in the series but has no date yet, no matter how often I check, forbthe publication of book three.

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