Friday, April 7, 2017

Discussion of Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

C O N T A I N S   S P O I L E R S !!!

discussion of strange the dreamer


A Summary of Strange the Dreamer, As Brief as I Can Possibly Make It

Are you ready for this? I did my best and broke down this complicated story into twelve main sections. You can read either the headers only, which give a complete rundown of the story on their own, or you can read the fully-fleshed descriptions, too. Here we go. And again: SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS!

1. A War-Orphan Is Obsessed With Stories and Legends of a Lost City

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Strange the Dreamer is set in another world, in a post-renaissance era. Our hero is Lazlo Strange. As a baby, Lazlo is taken with other war-orphans to be raised by monks.  Growing up, Lazlo adores stories, but the only person who tells them is a senile monk. This monk tells of an advanced city, beyond the Elmuthaleth desert, long lost to the world.

One day, the name of the lost city is erased from Lazlo's mind and replaced with the word, "Weep."


2. The City Became Lost Because It Was Attacked and Held Hostage By Wicked Gods

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In truth, the lost city of "Weep" suffered a disaster that cut it off from the world. Its calamity? The arrival of six gods. For two hundred years, the inhabitants of the far-flung city suffered under the brutal reign of six blue-skinned omnipotents. They were:

  • Skathis, god of an impenetrable, otherwordly metal called Mesarthium

  • Isagol, goddess of despair

  • Vanth, god of storms

  • Korako, goddess of secrets

  • Ikirok, god of revelry

  • Letha, goddess of oblivion

Operating from a floating, mesarthium tower called "the Citadel," these deities would abduct and rape the young men and women of the city below. The gods bred, like a factory, thousands of blue, gifted "godspawn." The human parents of the godspawn were only returned to their city after years of abuse, and had no memories of the Citadel upon leaving it. As for the godspawn, once they left their nursery, they simply vanished.


3. One Human Man Led a Revolt and Defeated the Gods

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The downfall of the gods was led by a young man, Eril-Fane. Before his abduction by the gods, Eril-Fane married his true love, Azareen, but was taken five days after his wedding. For three years, Eril-Fane suffered as the consort of Isagol, even producing a godspawn daughter with her. However, after Azareen was kidnapped and brutalized, Eril-Fane cast off Isagol's enthrallment and led a slaughter of the gods... and a slaughter of the godspawn nursery.

After this bloothbath, Eril-Fane, Azareen, and the rest of the abducted escaped from the Citadel, becoming the only humans to ever leave the tower with their memories intact, having killed the goddess of oblivion. Letha, however, with dying spite, erased the memory of the lost city's name from the face of the world. She replaced it only with "Weep."


4. Some Godspawn Children Survived the Slaughter and Grew Up In Hiding

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The eldest godspawn in the Citadel, the six year-old Minya, escaped Eril-Fane's carnage, carrying four babies with her to a hiding place. Minya, using her gift of capturing ghosts and controlling them, managed to reanimate enough of the dead to help raise the babies. The children Minya rescued were:

  • Sarai, "Muse of Nightmares," whose unusual gift allows her to split her consciousness into a hundred moths, who can invade and control the dreams of sleepers

  • Feral, "Cloud Thief," who can make manifest vapor, rain, snow, hail, and occasionally thunderbolts

  • Sparrow, "Orchid Witch," who can create abundant growth from plants and seeds

  • Ruby, "Bonfire," who can become a living torch

These godspawn — and Minya's ghosts — survive in the Citadel, making a semblance of a life together. But their secret existence is threatened when Eril-Fane hatches a plan to remove the Citadel from the sky.


5. To remove the gods' Citadel, the Lost City Makes Contact With the Outside World, Recruiting Foreign Talent

[reveal heading="%image% Click here to show/hide contents"]At a loss of how to remove the Citadel, Eril-Fane leads a convoy to make contact with foreign nations. Seeking scholars, inventors, and people with extraordinary skills, Eril-Fane promises unimaginable riches to the ones who solves Weep's "problem."[/reveal]

6. The War-Orphan has become an Expert on the Lost City, and is invited to visit there

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Lazlo Strange, our protagonist, has grown up.

As an adolescent, Lazlo escaped the monastery when running an errand to the Great Library of Zosma. Taken in by the librarians, Lazlo is now a member of their ranks. In his spare time, Lazlo researches the lost city and writes books on his findings. One day, however, Lazlo's enemy, Thyon, forcibly takes Lazlo's collected works.

Years prior, Lazlo had seen Thyon, a poweful alchemy wunderkind, being abused for not making gold. Pitying him, Lazlo gave Thyon a book of fairy tales, believing it would solve alchemy's greatest mystery. Thyon, humiliated, nonetheless succeeded in making gold by using Lazlo's ideas.  To keep this a secret, Thyon almost murdered Lazlo, but instead swore the librarian to secrecy.

In stealing his writings, Lazlo assumes Thyon is only further tormenting him, but in truth Thyon is preparing for Eril-Fane's visit, having prior knowledge of the convoy's arrival. Having studied Lazlo's research, Thyon impresses Eril-Fane by speaking some phrases in the hero's own tongue. Thyon, to Lazlo's horror, is given credit for Lazlo's life's work and is recruited for Eril-Fane's team of experts.

However, before the convoy leaves Zosma, Lazlo presents himself to Eril-Fane and makes Thyon's treachery clear. Fascinated by Lazlo, Eril-Fane promises to take him, along with Thyon, to Weep.


7. Hiding in the Citadel the humans seek to destroy, the godspawn make plans to survive

[reveal heading="%image% Click here to show/hide contents"]In the Citadel, the godspawn have discovered Eril-Fane's plot. Although the four youngest are resigned to their fate, Minya has been preparing for years. Unbeknownst to her fellow survivors, Minya has collected the ghost of every deceased person from Weep, assembling an undead army. Sarai is dismayed by Minya's thirst for violence because her own years of visiting dreamers in the city below has made her sympathetic towards humans. However, when Eril-Fane and his team of experts arrive in Weep, Sarai visits their dreams to gather information.[/reveal]

8. The war-orphan is visited by the godspawn called Sarai in his dreams, and they begin to fall in love

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Although no dreamer has seen Sarai in her life, Lazlo Strange becomes the first. While Sarai is walking in his dream, Lazlo can see her clearly. The next morning, Lazlo sees a painting of Isagol, and mistakes Sarai for the dead goddess due to the similarities between mother and daughter.

Sarai, meanwhile, cannot visit the dreams of her father, Eril-Fane, because he is sleeping outside the city limits. Although she causes the night terrors that drive him away, Sarai has begun, recently, to feel softer towards her father.

She also feels soft feelings for Lazlo, whose dreams she visits repeatedly. Deciding to speak to Lazlo in his sleep, the war-orphan and the godspawn become enraptured by each other, playing inside Lazlo's vivid dreamscapes.


9. When the humans enter the Citadel, they discover the godspawn and flee

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After spending a short time in Weep, Eril-Fane's team of foreign experts make their first try at entering the Citadel. In a small airship, a number of them ascend to the top of the tower.

Minya, lying in wait, is poised to ambush the humans with her ghost army, but Sarai runs out to warn Eril-Fane, Lazlo, and the others before Minya can surround them. Barely escaping with their lives, the humans retreat.

In the days and nights that follow, Sarai reveals her true name and identity to Lazlo in his dreams, and shares the godspawns' story. Lazlo, trying to convince Eril-Fane to spare Sarai and the others, confides the tale to the hero of Weep. Eril-Fane, having thought he'd murdered Sarai a babe, is both relieved his daughter lives, and terrified of Minya's power.


10. the Citadel is critically compromised

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Thyon, the alchemist, has been plotting to remove the Citadel, but has become ill. In Strange the Dreamer, people have two hearts and two vascular systems. One pumps blood, the other pulls "spirit." Years ago, when Lazlo gave Thyon the key to making gold, the librarian believed that one's spirit was an essential ingredient. This turned out to be true. Now in Weep, Thyon had been draining his body of spirit in his attempts to control mesarthium. Lazlo, feeling sorry for Thyon once again, had offered his own spirit for Thyon to use.

Thyon finds that a compound mixed with his own spirit does not affect Mesarthium, while Lazlo's spirit does. Successfully melting a hole in one of the Citadel's mesarthium anchors, Thyon becomes convinced that Lazlo is from another world. He goes to wake Lazlo, interrupting the librarian's passionate embraces with Sarai.

While Thyon and Lazlo are en route to the melted anchor, the demolitions expert of the team is busy wedging explosives inside the achor's new crevice.  Upon detonation, the anchor falls into the fissured ground, unmooring the Citadel.


11. The war-orphan, actually descended from gods, manifests powers and rescues the godspawn, except Sarai

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Lazlo sees one of the godspawn fall from the listing Citadel to the city below. To save Sarai, Lazlo gains supernatural control over the fallen anchor and moves it back to the surface, stabilizing the Citadel. In doing this, his skin turns blue, the color of the gods. All of this is witnessed by Eril-Fane and others, who are deeply terrified.

Needing to see if the fallen godspawn was Sarai, Lazlo animates a winged, mesarthium statue and flies to where the godspawn crashed. To his grief and horror, Sarai was indeed the godspawn who fell from the Citadel.


12. At the Citadel, the war-orphan meets his sister, who reunites him with the ghost of Sarai... conditionally

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Taking Sarai's body, Lazlo flies to the Citadel. The godspawn recognize his ability to manipulate mesarthium as inherited from Skathis, former king of the gods. They realize that Lazlo is one of the thousands of godspawn removed from the Citadel nursery and never heard of again. They also conclude that Minya and Lazlo are half-siblings, being both the children of Skathis.

Lazlo begs Minya to find Sarai's ghost and return her. Minya does so, but says, using Sarai's mouth as a puppet:


And the final words are, "To Be Continued."


Should We Give Laini Taylor a Pass on the Instalove?

Contains Light Spoilers For Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

Sometimes love happens quickly. It appears out of nowhere, like a spritely, spring raincloud. It usually occurs because:

  • The two people involved are compatible, (they like each other's personality)

  • They feel mutual attraction, (they like each other's body)

  • They both want to fall in love, (there's tons of consent floating around)

  • Venus is in the sixth house, (Al Green is playing in space)


  • They are characters in a fairy tale.

laini taylor instalove

In fairy tales, instalove works. The language in a fairy tale is succinct and action-packed. You can open up your copy of Grimm's, and someone walks a thousand miles within the space of a sentence. Let a page fall open in Hans Christian Anderson, and people are falling in love inside of a phrase.

When you've internet-stalked Laini Taylor, you'll know she adores myths and fairy tales. She's inspired by them and puts their qualities into her writing. Remember her first book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Akiva is approaching death on a smoking battlefield when Karou finds him. She applies a tourniquet to his wound and runs off. Akiva is enraptured and devotes the next several years of his life to finding her.


He devotes the next several years to finding her.

He devotes the next several years to finding her.

He devotes the next several years to finding her.

A woman he saw once.


In real life, this would be psychotic behavior. But if Prince Charming bumped into Akiva on the street, they'd bro out. Because Charming — oh, you see Charming — spent a few hours dancing with a girl and then, after she fled and left her shoe behind, he decided to measure the foot size of every woman in his kingdom.

In real life, this is insanity. In fairy tales, this is love.

When Taylor puts too much fairy tale love into her realistic fiction, she gets in hot water with critics. Her characters are normally so dimensional. What they choose to do is typically realistic. She uses sparkling language to create fantasy scenarios and settings, but populates them with convincing people. So when those people fall in instalove, it's jarring. In real life, love grows over time.

In Strange the Dreamer, Lazlo and Sarai are ready to be in love when they meet under extraordinary circumstances. Their quick attachment makes some logical sense. However, at the climax of the book, when Lazlo is blown up (but survives) and Sarai falls (to her death), their reactions are hokey for having only recently met. "My love! My love!" Please.

Strange the Dreamer is still a five star book for me, but its main flaw is the off-puttingly urgent love of Lazlo and Sarai. I know Laini Taylor can do better.

What about you, readers?

  • Did the instalove bother you?

  • Which pair is hotter — Akiva/Karou or Lazlo/Sarai?

Is Minya Evil? Why Is She Still Six?

She's not exactly evil? She's an unpleasant character in Strange the Dreamer, but also one of the most sympathetic. For all the terrible things she does and will do, she feels torment for having saved only four babies on the day of 'the Carnage.' It wasn't Minya's fault that Eril-Fane killed thirty innocents, but she still feels guilt for not doing more to stop him. As we learned from Harry Potter, remorse is the key to redemption. I think there's hope for little Minya.

Speaking of "little" Minya, why did she stop aging the day of the Carnage? She was a six year-old girl that day, and remains one fifteen years later. I think it has everything to do with her power, because some part of Minya did die that day. Either intentionally or not, she preserved herself after critical damage was done. Is Minya a ghost herself? Perhaps, but I'm slightly more inclined to think her death was psychological.

I find it hard to truly dislike Minya. Everything she does, she does it to keep going. She's the ultimate survivor. It's difficult to find too much fault with that.

What about you, readers?

  • Who is worse? Minya or Thyon?

  • Do you think Minya is dead-dead or just frozen in time?

Is Eril-Fane a Hero or a Baby-Killer?

Eril-Fane is one of the best characters in Strange the Dreamer.  At first he's shining, poised, and powerful. Gradually, though, his facade breaks away and we see that he's crumbling inside.

The man killed thirty babies. It's horrifying, but can you not sympathize with his decision? His city suffered two hundred years of systemic torture by six blue people. Those blue people raped him and his loved ones. Up until he killed his oppressors, Eril-Fane was overpowered every day.

Did you know that when women attack men, it's very typical for them to shoot until all their bullets are gone? Women will bludgeon past the point of death. They stab over and over until a man's body is perforated. My brother, who's an emergency physician, says he knows when a male patient was attacked by a woman — it's when the damage is total overkill.  He was puzzled by this, but that's because he doesn't have woman's perspective. Men are bigger than women. They're stronger. They're more physically aggressive. As a woman, I know that if I ever have to take a man down, I need to make damn sure he won't get up again. 

Eril-Fane was in the same situation. He killed the gods and then kept stabbing. He attacked every living trace of them. Only later, with the clarity that comes with safety, would he feel any unease for killing the blue children.

Now, Eril-Fane is eaten up inside for killing the kids. He does feel somewhat justified, but is guilty enough that he won't let himself be happy. He won't return to Azareen, his wife.

I know I'm not alone in wanting Eril-Fane and Azareen to reunite, after everything done to them and everything they did. To be at peace, though, the godslayer has a long way to go.

What about you, readers?

  • What was the best Eril-Fane scene in your opinion?

  • Do you think Eril-Fane handles his hero status well?

What Is Going On With Ruby and Feral?

Ruby and Feral were one of my shockers when reading Strange the Dreamer. Early on, we find out that Sparrow has tender feelings for Feral, so naturally I thought Laini Taylor would make something of that. Instead, the more assertive Ruby convinces Feral to... um... put the flowers in her attic.

Sparrow's pulling back the curtain on Ruby and Feral in flagrante delicto did provide us the most hilarious dialogue in Strange the Dreamer. 

“Well, if it’s romance you want, don’t expect too much from our Feral.”

“I don’t expect anything from him,” said Sparrow, annoyed. “I don’t want him now.”

“Why not? Because I’ve had my way with him? Don’t tell me it’s like when we used to lick the spoons to claim our place at table.”

“It is a little like that, yes.”

“Well then. The spoons were always fair game again after a wash. The same ought to go for boys.”

“Ruby, really.”

“What?” Ruby demanded, and Sparrow couldn’t tell if she was joking, or truly saw no difference between licked spoons and licked boys.

 I'm not aboard the Ruby/Feral ship yet. Building a relationship atop a foundation of sex seems backwards to me, but it'll be interesting to see what Laini Taylor makes of it. Most of all, I'm wondering, Where is she going with this?

What about you, readers?

  • Are you convinced Ruby/Feral will last? Or will they burn out?

  • What do you think their next step will be?

I Liked Lazlo. Lazlo Was Cool.

Readers, I liked our protagonist. I really liked him, although I'm not sure how I feel about him turning into Magneto. I suppose it's a good thing that Minya has him under her thumb, because I adored how Lazlo had to overcome so many hurdles in Strange the Dreamer.

I texted Sierra throughout reading the book, and one thing I kept yelling to her about what how unfair it all was. "I haven't felt such injustice since Harry and the Dursleys in Sorcerer's Stone!!!" Because Lazlo Strange kept getting beaten down further and further. The cruel monks, the dismissive scholars, and stupid, smug Thyon... It made Lazlo's eventual triumph, speaking out to Eril-Fane in front of Zosma's brightest, that much more incredible. I literally raised my arms in the air at that part, like a Pentecostal moved by the Spirit.

I loved how Lazlo is so different from many YA heroes these days. Instead of being a real tough guy, Lazlo broke his nose trying to get a big book of fairy tales off a high shelf. Guys... that detail absolutely slays me. I love how he wrote his own research books, and made the books, too, using leftover library materials and watered-down ink. I love how he's a good, gentle guy, even if he looks like a bit of a bruiser.

Now he's blue.

This development really shocked me, because, to repeat, I like Lazlo in an underdog role. I'm enormously excited, however, to see how Laini Taylor moves him forward in book two.

What about you, readers?

  • Did you like Lazlo Strange as much as I did?

  • And... will you be reading book two?


  1. This book was amazing. So amazing that it bears another reading before I can actually sit down and write what I thought of it. I probably end up word-vommiting incoherently regardless. Lol.

  2. Yes! I cannot WAIT to read your review & thoughts, Joy!!

  3. Wow Ellen this is so in depth and just wow!! Strange the Dreamer is my first Laini Taylor book and I loved it so much! I haven't been able to write a review for it but I'm trying. It's hard when you just want to tell people to READ THE BOOK hahaha.

  4. I went sooo overboard. Lol! I'm excited to read your review! So glad you loved this book too :D!