The desert horizon birthed sun after sun, and it seemed as if nothing would ever change. But then, two hundred years ago, the caravans stopped coming. In the western outposts of Elmuthaleth — Alkonost and others — they watched for the heat-distorted silhouettes of camel trains to emerge from the emptiness as they always had, but they did not.
And they did not.
And they did not.
There were no more camels, no more men, no more marvels, and no more stories. Ever. That was the last that was ever heard from the forbidden city, the unseen city, the lost city, and this was the mystery that had opened Lazlo’s mind like a door.
Strange the Dreamer is the first novel in a new series from established fantasy author Laini Taylor. While she’s got a huge dedicated readership, I’d never read anything of hers. From the first page, I knew I’d found something wonderful.
This book is an experience, not just from the first page to the last but from cover to cover. Normally I’m not one to pay much attention to the cover styling, but the saturation, the dynamism present on this cover is a perfect match for the contents. I knew I was holding something special before I even cracked it open, and I was expecting to be let down.
By page 3 I knew it would be everything I’d hoped and so much more.
I do think Taylor’s poetic/lyric voice takes some getting used to, and I’ll admit that as I turned the page from prelude to first page I did question what I was in for. That lyricism, as has been observed time and again, is a staple of Taylor’s writing – and is a huge part of why her readers come back and back again.
There’s a scene right at this very beginning, with which she introduces our main character (Strange), that really highlights her skill. In this scene, our orphan protagonist is playing shadow warrior in an orchard at the monastery where he’s being raised. The narration switches back and forth from in his head, Strange with his two swords surrounded by enemy warriors, to real life, Strange – the orphan boy holding two sticks and shivering in a cold orchard. As the scene advances, the narrative POV switches back and forth more frequently until:
“Their laughter sounded like the creaking of branches …”
With such a simple line, an elegant simile, the two Ps of V crash into each other – ending their back-and-forth dance in an arresting and evocative image.
Taylor’s work is full of these, most of which don’t stand out at all for their elegant simplicity but which simply work their quiet magic to heighten simultaneously the immersive reading experience and the surreal nature of the growing story.
And boy, does it grow.
The world Taylor has created for Strange the Dreamer is one of tenuously balanced opposing forces, whose upsets cause cascading upsets across worlds and generations. Myths and legends transition into history into lived experiences as her characters chase dreams across the desert and chase love a world away.