Strange the Dreamer #1. Author: Laini Taylor.
There was a strange, awkward contrast in Strange the Dreamer for me. I am wholly enamored with the language and writing style. Laini Taylor sings on the page, a minstrel’s rhythmic music that paints a rich, foreign landscape before the reader’s eye. I’d picked the book up at the library but found myself wishing again and again that it was my own copy as I found snippets, phrases, whole metaphors, that I wanted to underline and mark up. I’ve always been interested by writing style, and think I can honestly say Strange the Dreamer is absolutely the closest a book has ever come to my ideal of prose, the perfect language for fantasy.
But the story?
Not so in love. Oh, at first I liked it. The setting, the ancient library, the wholly intriguing hints at strange magic where a name could be excised from the mind of a nation – everything was promising. It’s a big, thick book, and those are the best. But it’s not a cohesive story. The entire first half is spent developing two different stories, one of an orphan and his studies, dreams, work; the other about the halfling children of dead tyrants, who once crushed the city below them as gods. In the second half our two pov characters meet, fall in love within the week, and suddenly the entire focus has shifted.
Look, it’s not the existence of the romance itself. Actually, it’s pretty cute, although there’s also a totally unnecessary and inappropriate side-romance between two of the halflings that I do have a problem with the existence of. But somehow this new relationship becomes the focus of the story, coming to a point with the cliff-hanger ending. There’s a lot of conflict going on, what with humans discovering the halflings, the halflings developing their powers, the internal conflicts between humans – it’s just not realistic for all this to be sidelined.
Sexual Content: “Find some flowers and find one to give them to. It’s as simple as that. Look for kind eyes and wide hips, do you hear me? Hips, boy. You haven’t lived until you’ve laid your head on a nice soft-” he’s cut off. / Playful kissing. Intense kissing./ ‘Her white slip was plastered to her body and quite transparent, her small nipples and the divot of her navel clearly visible.’ The moment isn’t really sexual, just passing. However, on being told to get dry she burns her slip off (magic)./ “Don’t you want to be touched? […] Don’t you wish you had someone to sneak off and do things with?” / ‘At some point she realized that it [a side room/bed] had been for Isago’s consorts, paramours, whatever you chose to call them.’ / Character watches the city at night through magic – ‘there were, it turned out, an untold number of ways that bodies could intertwine.’ / “She’s magnificent when she fights.” She added with a secret smile, “Though she’s even more magnificent at doing other things.” (The girls have been seen together, and the implication here is sexual.) / : “Put your hand here,” breathed Ruby, and he obeyed. “Now here,” she commanded, and he did not. To her satisfaction, Feral’s hands had a hundred ideas of their own, and none of them were boring. (These two continue, clearly engaged in sexual activity – no details – only their pleasure and curiosity.)/ While the city was controlled by ‘gods’ in the past, Skathis (one of the gods) would take their girls away, and bring them back a year or more later, with memories wiped – but there is various physical evidence of abuse and rape.
Language: 9 d***, 3 derogatory terms
Violence: Young woman falls from the sky and dies, impaled on a sharp fence-point. Young boy is beaten for disobedience. Character is hit by a flying stone during an explosion and killed. Many ghosts are imprisoned and kept from going on to the afterlife by magic. Ghosts attack characters with knives, no one is seriously hurt.