Friday, June 16, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Welcome back to YA Fest! For the entire month of June, all of the books I will be covering will be from young adult fiction. And today, not only is the book young adult, but fantasy as well, which is a genre I rarely cover. I had the opportunity to hear Laini Taylor speak, not only about her latest book, Strange the Dreamer, but about writing in general. The cover alone is enough to make nearly anyone at least pick up the book and read the jacket in anticipation of a beautiful but unique story.

The Situation: Lazlo Strange is an orphan. At first it seemed he would grow up to be a monk, much like those who take care of him at the Zemonan Abbey. But then he took a fateful trip to the Great Library and never returned, with no one making him. It was not too hard to believe that Lazlo would become enraptured in books. He was known around the abbey to be prone to fantasy: a dreamer. And one thing he often dreamt of was the city of Weep, whose true name Lazlo used to know, but not anymore. Lazlo dreamed of Weep so much that he wrote books about it, and became an expert in a subject that was practically of little use to anyone. Of course, that would change when the Godslayer himself would come to Zosma in search if its best scholars to take back to Weep. Of course, Lazlo is no scholar, only a lowly librarian. But fortunately for him, the Godslayer had an interest in hearing some new stories.

The Problem: Lazlo not being a scholar is not so much an issue, except for some of the others who feel he has no place in their group. Thyon Nero certainly believes as much, and takes almost every opportunity to say so, bringing up numerous reasons and examples as to why. Even so, the Godslayer, Eril-Fane, is pleased to have Lazlo's company. And despite the young librarian's innocence and lack of a specialty, he is allowed to be a part of the mission, the reason Eril-Fane came to Zosma to recruit the scholars in the first place. It seems the citizens of Weep are living in a literal shadow. The home of the gods that used to torment their existence - the ones that Eril-Fane struck down years ago - hovers above the city, keeping it in a constant shadow. Eril-Fane wants nothing more than to be rid of the citadel forever, but what he does not know is that the day he slayed the gods, he missed a few; five to be exact. In the coming days, Lazlo will learn the entire history of exactly what happened in Weep, why no one remembers its true name anymore, and why ridding the city of the floating citadel is not as straightforward an issue as it seems.

Genre, Themes, History: As I mentioned, this is a young adult fantasy novel, set mostly in the mythical city of Weep, though it had another name once. Lazlo Strange is the protagonist and the subject of the title. As a boy, and even as he grows up into a young man, Lazlo is often ridiculed for being prone to fantasies. But it is those fantasies that will land him a place among the scholars who get to travel to Weep and aid the Godslayer in an attempt to liberate his people. Lazlo may be the main protagonist, but in the floating citadel itself is Sarai, half god, half human. She and four others - Feral, Ruby, Sparrow, and Minya - are all that are left from the time Eril-Fane managed to slaughter the gods that used to rule his people. The five of them stay in the citadel, out of sight, for fear that if the people of Weep find out they are there, they will once again attempt to kill them. Only Minya is old enough to remember the slaughter, but she holds enough bitterness and rage to cover them all, and resents the others for not being as ruthless as she is. But what the rest seem to want more than anything is to be able to live a life outside of the citadel without fear of being killed. This is certainly true of Sarai. And she is the only one among them who has a way of "visiting" the city, without ever leaving the safety of her home. As the book shifts between Sarai and Lazlo, the complicated history of Weep is revealed, making it clear that getting rid of the floating citadel will involve more than a godslayer employing a few scholars.

My Verdict: I always take a gamble when I pick up the first book of what is sure to be either a series, or at least a two-parter. And with this one, I may have lost. But although I lost, this is not a bad book. Allow me to explain: what Taylor has done here is what Sarai talks about nearly halfway through the novel, and this is create a story that is beautiful and full of monsters. Lazlo is just the kind of hero you root for, and Sarai is just the type of heroine who is capable and not at all helpless, but she still needs help. Eril-Fane is the right mix of mysterious and regal, while Thyon is the guy people will love to hate. There are countless other characters I could mention, such as Minya, the vengeful and twisted godspawn whose presence makes the reader uncomfortable, because that much hate and anger can only lead to terrible events. And then there is Weep itself, the city whose true name was lost, and whose people are still hurting from years of abuse at the hands of entities more powerful than they. It is a lovely book, but I doubt I can make myself continue in the series. The issues confronting Lazlo will not be easily solved, and that is fine, but I do not think I can handle a second installment where he will be toyed with endlessly due to his feelings, while also dealing with his newfound knowledge about himself and about Weep. I also am not interested in reading about a villain who is allowed too much control for way too long (I get enough of that in reality, and my nerves simply cannot take it). Granted, for me to abandon a series after the first book means I have to make certain assumptions for the rest of the story that may or may not be true. However, with how Strange the Dreamer ended, I am not hopeful, and may have to let this series go. But it is not the book, it is me. Those with tougher nerves and who love immersive worlds will be just fine. 

Favorite Moment: Anytime Lazlo rises above Thyon's narcissism and pettiness, which is pretty much what happens every time they interact.

Favorite Character: Lazlo is an easy pick, so I am going with it. Generally pure and good, with few faults, which is what makes him so annoying to people like Thyon. Favor has not smiled on Lazlo his entire life as it seems to have for Thyon. But somehow, the former still manages to be the better person in every situation. 

Recommended Reading: As I mentioned, I do not read much fantasy, but I did read The Reader by Traci Chee and enjoyed it a great deal.       

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