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Literature / Strange the Dreamer

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Strange the Dreamer is a Young Adult fantasy book written by Laini Taylor, author of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. The book centers around the adventures of Lazlo Strange, an orphan and apprentice librarian who has dreams of someday traveling to the Unseen City, a mystical metropolis where all wonderful things like magic exist. But when he actually comes to the city, known as Weep, he realizes that there is so much he doesn't know about this strange world. Meanwhile, a girl named Sarai lives a life imprisoned and away from humanity, but she longs to escape and be apart of the world... if only that was possible.

Strange the Dreamer was released in March of 2017, part one of a planned duology.

WARNING: Due to the slowly-unraveling structure of this story, there will be unmarked spoilers ahead. Read with caution!

This book provides examples of:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: Invoked in a variant form by Ruby, for recreation rather than procreation. She and Feral start making out and eventually having sex with each other because they're sure they're going to die and Feral is the only boy among the Godspawn.
  • Alchemy Is Magic: Subverted. Alchemy is a real science in this world, and is the field of expertise of Thyon Nero, who is a staunch believer in the scientific existence of reality. He's the first alchemist to successfully transmute gold and create a universal solvent.
  • Animal Motifs: Sarai's dream powers manifest in the shapes of velvety black moths, through which she can experience the world in full sensory detail. Moths are on the cover of the hardcover edition of the book.
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  • Bad Powers, Bad People: All the Mesarthim, who used their powers to abduct, torture, rape and terrify the inhabitants of the Unseen City. Played straight with Minya and subverted with Sarai, who uses her powers to torment humans but regrets it.
  • Bishōnen: Thyon Nero, the golden godson.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The Citadel, made of Mesarthium, shaped like a seraphim, and hovering above Weep. It gets weirder inside, with all the doors being either permanently open or closed as they were at the time of Skathis' death.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Lazlo. His obsession with the Unseen City and all its stories and ancient documents is seen as silly and wasteful by the other librarians and the scholars.
    • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Lazlo makes a bet on what the "problem" of Weep is, going for the most bizarre guess possible. He's right, of course.
  • Demolitions Expert: Drave. His restlessness and jealously lead him to blowing up the earth underneath the north anchor and causing both Sarai's death Lazlo's Mesarthim heritage to emerge in full.
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  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Uttered by Thyon Nero word-for-word.
  • Dream Team: The outsiders that the Tizerkane bring into Weep all have special expertise that make them experts in their fields. Among the assembled are a mathematician, a natural scientist, a renown architect, a couple who invented a flying machine, twin brother geologists, and a girl who is really good at climbing.
  • Dream Weaver: Combined with Dream Walker, this is Sarai's gift. She can enter human's dreams and conjure up nightmares and horrors to terrify them, without the dreamers ever knowing she was there.
  • Extra-ore-dinary: Skathis, known as the God of Beasts, was the Mesarthim with the ability to create and manipulate Mesarthium. He even had the power to turn the metal into living things, hence the epithet. Lazlo, as his son, inherits this power.
  • Fade to Black: Averted. There are numerous sex scenes in this book. Of course, being a YA book, they're more metaphorical than literal, but they're definitely there.
  • Fantasy Metals: Mesarthium. Created by the Mesarthim, it's completely adamant, frictionless, and otherworldly. Even the universal solvent fails to dissolve it until Lazlo's spirit is added to the concoction. Finding a way to destroy the metal is a large part of the novel.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Sarai feels as if the ghosts under Minya's control experience this. When she herself is rescued from evanescence by Minya, she changes her mind - briefly.
  • Gilded Cage: Downplayed. The Citadel isn't a particularly lavish prison, but the Godspawn have food, water, beds and clothes to wear, and a staff of ghosts to do all the chores. They're also free to use their powers as long as they don't reveal themselves to the humans below.
  • Green Thumb: Sparrow's gift. She can nurture plants from a single seed and revive them at will.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Lazlo, who grows up in an oppressive monastery and finds his true calling at the library.
  • Human Outside, Alien Inside: A strange (no pun intended) case where the humans of this world have two hearts: one that pumps blood, and one that pumps spirit, a phlegm-like fluid that provides the body with vitality.
  • I Am Who??: Combined with Amnesiac Godspawn. Lazlo discovers at the end of the book that he is the son of Skathis.
  • In Medias Res: The opening scene of the story is Sarai's death. The actual event doesn't happen until the last few chapters of the novel.
  • Kill the God: Fifteenth years ago, Eril-Fane killed the Mesarthim and murdered their half-human children. He's called the Godslayer in the present day.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The Mesarthim with power over secrets wiped the minds of humans that were kidnapped by the Mesarthim once their service was done. When she died, she made the entire world forget the true name of the Unseen City, which is how it came to be known as Weep.
  • Mental World: Lazlo's dream image of Weep, which looks just like how the old monk described the city.
  • The One Guy: Feral is the only boy among the otherwise female Godspawn.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Mesarthim, who arrived one day in the Unseen City and promptly took it over. The Mesarthium as well, which requires a team of outsider experts to tackle the problem of destroying it.
  • Our Angels Are Different: The Seraphim, which are without a doubt the same Seraphim from the author's previous series, with fiery wings and the ability to kill demons.
  • Playing with Fire: Ruby's gift. She can light herself and objects on fire, and she is immune to burning.
  • Purple Prose: Laini Taylor's writing style, in full force here. YMMV on whether this is enjoyable or annoying.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Among all the evil acts the Mesarthim committed, the one that pushed them over the brink in the eyes of the humans was their wanton abduction of teenage boys and girls, many of whom were raped or coerced magically into sex.
  • Soul Power: Minya's gift. She can pluck ghosts before they dissolve into nothingness, and force them to do her will without question.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: How Lazlo and Sarai meet and correspond. They get up to more... intimate things in the dreams as well.
  • Title Drop: "Strange the Dreamer" is an epithet of sorts that the librarians give to Lazlo for being obsessed with fairy tales.
  • Weather Manipulation: Feral's gift. He can draw clouds from different places around the world with a thought. He cannot, however, generate storms from nothing.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: In-Universe. Lazlo reckons that there must have been many more Godspawn created in the 200+ years of Mesarthim rule... but nobody knows where they are and if they even still live. It's implied that the Mesarthim themselves did something to Godspawn once they manifested their gift.