Any story of Laini Taylor’s is a good one. She has a knack for grasping the most whimsical image, or job occupation, or name, and embellishing it until her worlds shimmer with magic dust. The bestselling YA fantasy author of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, a fantastic romp through Prague and other worlds populated by chimera and angels, Taylor has also written the Dreamdark trilogy, a sophisticated fantasy for ages 9 and up. Her short story collection Lips Touch Three Times was nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Her newest novel Strange the Dreamer is no exception to this luminous touch.
This story begins as part of another story. Lazlo Strange grows up in Zemonan Abbey, famous for its illuminated scripts and library. Of course, Strange becomes a librarian but not just any librarian. He writes his own books, self-titled The Complete Works of Lazlo Strange. For his entire life, Lazlo has been obsessed with the world of Weep. There is only one problem; this world doesn’t exist, except for in Lazlo’s books and imagination. Everyone else in the kingdom views the city as a fantasy, forgotten in the mists of time. A rivalry grows between Laszlo Strange and the kingdom’s resident golden boy, a literal alchemist, Thyon Nero.
When Nero asks for Laszlo’s Complete Works, he is suspicious. The tale grows even more strange and heart-wrenching when a mysterious cavalcade arrives in the kingdom, and it is revealed that the city of Weep is real – and the Tizerkane warriors of Weep are seeking outsiders to assist them in a quest. Laszlo is invited along by chance, embarking upon a journey to help save the once-fantastical city, now more real than ever.
Laszlo Strange accompanies the Tizerkane warriors, as does the alchemist Thyon Nero and others with multifaceted skills. They have been assembled by the leader of the Tizerkane, Eril-Fane (Taylor has fun with the fantastical names in this book) to save the city of Weep from an unnamed threat. What happens once the group arrives at Weep is astonishing, unpredictable, and utterly delicious to read. The city of Weep has been destroyed by the aftermath of a war between gods and men, and there are remnants of that war nestled in the heart of the strange city.
The lush imagery and fairy-tale logic of the story takes over, and we are swept along with Laszlo on his journey. There are girls who lounge about in silk slips eating plums. There is a girl who controls ghosts. There are moths that give people nightmares. Blood candy, alchemy, and monsters abound in this fantastical and utterly enchanting read. Taylor’s imagination is out in full force with this first in a duology that is sure to bring more wonder and whimsy to whoever reads it.
Images via Laini Taylor.