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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. Its sequel, Muse of Nightmares, was released in November of 2018.

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

This book provides examples of:

  • 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.
  • 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, whose ability to control ghosts has made her abusive and controlling and subverted with Sarai, who uses her powers to torment humans but regrets it.
  • Big Sister Bully: Minya may look like the youngest of the godspawn, but she's actually the oldest, and has emotionally and mentally abused the other godspawn all their lives by using her tantrums and guilt-tripping and powers to make them do whatever she wants and tormenting them whenever they defy her.
  • Bishōnen: Thyon Nero, the golden godson, whose beauty is frequently commented on by the narrative.
  • 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.
  • Colony Drop: Three of the anchors dropped onto the Tizerkane barracks, the library and university, and the royal palace, taking out Weep's army, government, and intellectual center in one fell swoop and leaving them easy prey for the Mesarthim.
  • Damaged Soul: Minya has poured so much of her soul into her ghosts that she's less of a person and more of a purpose.
  • Demolitions Expert: Drave. His restlessness and jealously lead him to blowing up the earth underneath the north anchor and causing both Sarai's death and Lazlo's Mesarthim heritage to emerge in full.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Uttered by Thyon Nero word-for-word when Lazlo dares to compare their situations as abused boys.
  • 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.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Thyon Nero is unable to comprehend that Lazlo would help him just because he needed it and is convinced that it's all a part of some grand scheme.
  • 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.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Lazlo found the secret to alchemy and shared it with Thyon Nero out of sympathy since they were both victims of abuse. In return, Thyon tried to destroy Lazlo's life's work and take his dream of going to Weep from him, because he couldn't handle the idea that a "nothing" like Lazlo would dare pity him.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Excuse: Minya is a sadistic, abusive bully who wants to destroy all the humans of Weep for the deaths of the godspawn, but she was also heavily traumatized by the nursery massacre and her failure to save more of the children, and thanks to her frozen aging she's stuck feeling the same emotions she felt that day.
  • 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.
  • Hard on Soft Science: Lazlo is a brilliant historian, having spent years finding remnants of Weep in old cargo manifests and fairy tales and has even reconstructed their language somewhat, and found the secret to alchemy while he was at it. Thyon, most of the other scientists, and even Lazlo himself dismiss him as just a dreamy librarian with a stupid hobby. Eril-Fane is the first to see his potential.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Godspawn are half god, half human. The humans hate them just as much as the gods and slaughtered them in the uprising, while the gods abduct them as soon as they show gifts for some unknown reason.
  • Hate at First Sight: Minya hates Lazlo the instant she sees his gift, because she feels he cheated by just having a gift that should have been hers for all she sacrificed. Learning that he was the one who encouraged Sarai to defy her, and realizing that he is stronger than her after she's become a Control Freak, just rubs it in further, and she enslaves Sarai just to spite him.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Lazlo, who grows up in an oppressive monastery and finds his true calling at the library.
  • Hope Spot: Minya likes to give her ghosts a slight leash to make them think they can fight her, before crushing that hope.
  • 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.
  • I Have Your Wife: At the end, Minya captures Sarai's soul and threatens to release it unless Lazlo does exactly what she says.
  • 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.
  • Karmic Death: Draven carelessly sets off an explosion with no thought as to the collateral damage, and is killed by it.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Minya has frozen herself at six years old, her age at the time of the god-slaying. Because of this, she's become a sociopathic bully who sadistically torments the ghosts she captures and her fellow godspawn whenever they displease her, which is most of the time.
  • 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.
  • Motive Decay: Minya originally started out trying to save the other four godspawn, but her desire for vengeance and control plus her Damaged Soul from maintaining ghosts for all those years whittle her down until control and power is all she can think about. By the end, she's happy that Sarai is dead so she can enslave her and gain control over Lazlo, who she immediately hates because he has the power she wants.
  • Must Not Die a Virgin: Ruby and Feral start making out and eventually having sex with each other because they're sure they're going to die soon and Feral is the only boy among the Godspawn.
  • Night of the Living Mooks: Minya has been stealing all of the dead from Weep for fifteen years, and unleashes a massive army of ghosts when Eril-Fane and the experts first come up to the Citadel. They barely survive thanks to Sarai warning them and flying outside of Minya's range.
  • 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.
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: Sarai is attracted to Thyon Nero's beautiful face, but is repulsed by his ugly, small dreams. Lazlo looks plain, but has the most beautiful dreams of anyone she's ever seen.
  • 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.