My rating: 5 dragons
Yes! This book is so beautiful and eloquent and rich and details and vivid and all of the things you think of when you consider beautiful dreams.
People raving about the stunning writing style was what originally drew me to the book. I was bombarded with review after review of high praise and desperation to read the next book that I couldn’t put it off any more. It’s never good to go into a new book with outrageously high hopes, but I am pleased to say I was not disappointed.
Lazlo Strange, our protagonist, is wonderful. I connected with him and empathised with him in so many different ways and on so many levels. Like me, he is introverted, quiet, a dreamer, often lost in books or his own worlds. He believes himself not worthy of more than a cursory glance, and my heart bled for him. For his struggles and desires and weaknesses and fears. He was a wonderful storyteller to carry us through this wonderful story.
He is not the only protagonist (though I would have been perfectly happy if he was), and most of the side characters do make a lasting impression.
Lazlo begins his life as an orphan boy named by the monks he is raised by. Like most children, he ignores his boring duties to play outside, where he imagines participating in great battle scenes. Most days, he is out fighting with sword-branches, believing himself to be one of the mighty warriors of… what was the name of the place again?
Just like that, the name of the city is lost from his mind. What sorcery could have caused this?
And so, through a fortunate turn of luck, Lazlo leaves the monastery and ends up working in a library in a city some distance away. The librarians and researches see his immediate love of books, knowledge, and learning, and they permit him to stay. He grows up, dedicating a ludicrous amount of time to this fabled city, whose name is lost to all.
His peers think he is wasting his time, and why wouldn’t they? If the city ever existed, it doesn’t now. There are more important things to be getting on with. But Lazlo doesn’t listen. He compiles everything he can on the city – from past receipts, currency ledgers, and he even learns what he can of the language, culture, and customs. He knows the city’s name… it has just been taken from him. Perhaps he can learn it again.
When a procession of warriors from the city – known only as Weep – arrives, his chance to see the city of his dreams is at his fingertips. What follows is his amazing journey, and we learn, little by little, layer by layer, of this incredible place and those who live there.
There are Gods and monsters in this sweeping tale, magic and powers that I felt so connected to I could reach out and touch. This was a breath-taking, beautiful read that I shall treasure for a long, long time.
Things I loved
You can’t talk about Strange The Dreamer without talking about the writing style. It is art in word form. It is beautiful and poetic and lyrical. But it is also easy to understand. It is like a painting you want to sink into and be comforted by and never leave. There are so many wonderful lines that I’d like to quote, but I’d end up typing the whole book! The prose took me less than ten pages to click, and I adored it. I read the book in four days straight, which, for me, is incredibly fast. (I read at a snail’s pace) Every chapter hinted at the one to follow, small details of the world and its people were teased out, and the whole thing just worked well. It is very skilfully woven storytelling!
The characters. Lazlo is one of my favourite protagonists, perhaps because we are so alike. He was a wonderful storyteller, and I cared for him so much that my heart swelled in the wonderful moments and I cried in the low ones.
Sarai is the other protagonist – a red-haired, blue-skinned Goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. It’s hard to talk about her and her siblings for spoilers, but needless to say, not all is as it seems, and people aren’t always easy to read. There were characters I loved and hated, equally. Though I empathised with pretty much all of them.
I have to mention the utter gorgeousness of the hardback copy that I bought. The pages are edged in blue, and the writing on the cover is in delicate gold leaf. It’s a work of art, and shows the level of care and commitment that has gone into the creation of this amazing story. It makes me think of lovely, old-school storytelling that you can get lost in for hours.
Things I didn’t like
There was a bit of “insta-love” that appeared about three quarters of the way through. I don’t particularly like romance as it is, much less instantaneous love, but this was quite tastefully dealt with, and was believable. So I was aware that I didn’t like it, but it didn’t mar what was a beautiful story.
Like many others, I guessed the twist at the end before it happened. Normally that would leave me disappointed, but again, a wonderfully strong story meant I could look past it. And while I guessed the big twist, there were a couple of smaller ones that I hadn’t quite plotted out, so the ending was still incredibly satisfying.
Books like this are why I love reading. They’re what inspired me to write my own stories and create my own characters. I can imagine re-reading this at some point in the next year or so. It’s comforting and familiar and wonderful. It reminded me of reading magic and fantasy when I was younger, and it felt fresh and new as well as nostalgic and familiar at the same time.
I could swoon about this forever and I’d never do it justice. Buy this book and read it. Please!