Muse of Nightmares

Muse of Nightmares, released last November, is the sequel to Strange the Dreamer. There are spoilers for its predecessor in this review, you can find my opinions on Strange the Dreamer here.

I was gifted a copy of the book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review as part of the paperback release blog tour. This is a 100% genuine review, and not influenced by this!

Muse of Nightmares is the heart wrenching sequel to the popular fantasy novel, Strange the Dreamer. Starting where it’s predecessor left off, Lazlo is desperate. Loving a ghost at Minya’s command he is forced to make a devastating choice: loose Sarai or destroy Weep, and the only friends and family he’s ever known. Despite his friends on Weep’s hatred of the godspawn he still clings to one, impossible shred of hope: that they might find a world that welcomes them after all. But as Skathsis’s victims turn on each other in their grief and anger it becomes almost impossible to build bridges in a world bent on tearing them down.

“We’re caught up in something older than ourselves and bigger than our world”

Taylor shows no mercy to her readers in this powerful sequel. The only villain in this series died fifteen years before the story began, leaving only his victims, cobbling together a life for themselves while carrying the anguish of what they have lost. Every character is introduced to the reader in complex and minute detail that drags the reader into their elaborate existence, their backstory so vividly described that when the characters lash out, raw with emotion and grief, it is almost justified. But this makes their triumphs and compassion even more moving to the reader.

Whether the character’s development takes place in the past or the present of the novel, it is well written and compelling. From Minya learning to find strength in others, Eril-Fane discovering how to forgive himself, Nora preserving for her sister and even Thyon humbling himself to rebuild a better life. Character development is at the heart of this novel and I love how intimate the reader becomes with each character and how they understand the gravitas of each decision they make and the forgiveness they learn to show.

People are our safe places. I have one: a person who’s a home and a world to me.

The theme of friendship and family is still prominent in this series, particularly in the heart warming chapters set in Weep where Thyon learns the value of trusting others. Minya’s shifting relationship with her ‘family’ also highlight this theme and, of course, Kora and Nova’s sisterly relationship was a stark reminder of the bonds that tie these frail characters together. This theme is explored and tested throughout the novel and manifests to the reader in many different forms and situations.

One of the settings, Weep, has already been detailed in its predecessor, Strange the Dreamer. The reader sees less of Weep in this novel as the main focus is on the citadel, which becomes an elaborate labyrinth for the godspawn to explore now they have Lazlo’s gift. I enjoyed the icy descriptions of Kora and Nova’s homeland, an Eskimo like setting with cruel undertones, and found the contrasting world’s woven together well throughout the story.

“Hope was luster, and they had shone with it like twin pairs in an oyster”

My reasoning for giving Muse of Nightmares four stars instead of five is that it is needlessly dark in places. Almost all the characters have been raped or are born because of rape, and many of these incidents are just thrown haphazardly into a character’s backstory, which I felt was unnecessary and didn’t give enough gravitas to this abhorrent crime.

Taylor’s writing style, much like in Stange the Dreamer, is well crafted and mesmerising. The reader is presented with a plethora of unusual words, coupled with each characters’ intimate feelings, portrayed in a relatable and digestible manor that any reader can become immersed in. I particularly enjoyed Kora and Nova’s story, dotted amongst Lazlo and Sarai’s. The story was captivating in itself and the stark change from our protagonists’ current situation. Each Nova chapter left me wondering how the stories would eventually intertwine, adding an extra complexity to the mystery already being told. The dark tones of Nova’s story foreshadow the lives of the godspawn and, as I began to see where the tales would merge, the devastating meeting is even more powerful for this build up.

There comes a certain point with a hope or a dream, when you either give it up or give up everything else

The plot of Muse of Nightmares is laid out differently to almost any other novel I’ve read. There’s nearly 300 pages of action towards the end of the novel and a third of the story is what I would consider the ending. This felt like an unusual plot decision and I wasn’t altogether sure I liked it- there was a part resolution in the middle of this action that felt out of place to the pacing of the novel and turmoil surrounding the characters. The final resolution also felt quite long, the characters endings were drawn out as their future was described. I really like how the ending felt, however, like this novel was just small part of the characters’ stories and that they would go on to new adventures. I actually enjoyed the fact that not every budding romance blossomed in this novel, it left more creativity to the reader and I was satisfied not everything was resolved and the characters would keep developing in their own realms.

The target audience of Muse of Nightmares is certainly mature, fantasy readers. As mentioned above their are lots of darker themes and trigger warnings for rape and suicide. Furthermore, Minya’s dreams were terrifying and I definitely wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone easily scared, I may have skim read the dreams myself given their creepy tone.

“This was where they landed when they fell out of the stars”

Overall, I really enjoyed Muse of Nightmares. I love falling into Laini Taylor’s well crafted world and the characters are well developed and unique. I would recommend it to any older fantasy reader who can cope with the darker themes the novel presents.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Strange The Dreamer

Lazlo Strange is the unofficial expert on a dessert city that shut itself of from the world nearly two hundred years ago and suddenly disappeared from memory fifteen years ago. From scraps of receipts, forgotten tomes and fairy tales Lazlo pieces together their language and history but one question still haunts him: what happened to it? His lifelong ambition is to refind the city, but he soon discovers how cruel the world can be when his dream comes to him.

The first aspect of this novel that I have to talk about is the writing style. I love Laini Taylor’s writing, regardless of which of her novels I read. Her quotes are magical, her descriptions vivid and her books are stuffed with exceptional uses of the English language that I fall completely into their realms. Peppered with unusual new words and an exciting narrative I was easily drawn into Lazlo’s story.

“There were no books to hide behind, and no shadows- only Lazlo Strange in his work gray robes, with his nose that had been broken by fairy tales, looking like the hero of no story ever told.

The characters in this novel are well written and complex. I enjoyed Lazlos internal struggle with staying safely among his books or searching the horizon for adventure, and loved the conversations he had with a fond elderly librarian who was convinced Lazlo should replace books with girls. Sarai faced similar internal conflict: support her family’s hatred of Weep or fight for a peace that nobody but her seems to want. These struggles made them both unique narrators and gave their decisions more gravitas to the reader. I also enjoyed how fleshed out many of the side characters were, particularly Nero and Eril-Fane, who’s characters were both important to Lazlo’s plot while following their own story and developing in their own way.

Character development is something Taylor does particularly well. Even minor characters like Ruby and Feral mature and grow throughout the novel and I love how in depth all the backstories and development is. Of course out protagonist, Lazlo, shows key development throughout the novel, as he learns who he is and that maybe, just once, this story is his.

“Lazlo couldn’t have belonged at the library more truly if he were a book himself”

Forbidden love is a key theme in this novel. It’s very Romeo and Juliet esque and I enjoyed seeing Sarai come to life as she met Lazlo. I wouldn’t say it was a slow burn romance but it was so sweet how they made each others dreams come true, quite literally, and slowly learnt to trust the impossible together. Their love is sweet but often mixed with the darked undertone as it is shown to the reader early on that they both often put too much stock in dreams. I also enjoyed seeing the developing relationship between my favourite character, the wall climbing, spunky, jewel thief Calixite, and her girlfriend, and hope they’ll get more page time in the sequel.

Another key theme was friendship. The friendship between Ruza and Lazlo was full of short quips and friendly banter, which balanced the serious tone of the novel and was heart warming to read. It would have been nice to have seen more of Lazlo’s friendships in Weep, but given the novel was already 500 pages this might be a bit ambitious. The theme of friendship further purists in the Citadel where the five residents treat each other like family, bickering and helping each other, and the nature of their relationship to each other was often brought into question throughout the story.

I think you’re a fairy tale. I think you’re magical, and brave, and exquisite. And I hope you’ll let me be in your story

I found the book well paced. The challenges characters face are woven amongst the scenes of romance and action, giving the novel a good balance and catering well to a variety of fantasy readers. The plot is well balanced and works well, it has dark themes and I wouldn’t recommend this novel to younger readers, but would suggest it to Adult Fantasy fans.

Being set in a different realm and involving vasts amounts of details about the mysterious city, Weep, and the lives of its occupants, a lot of the novel is world building. This is entertaining to read and the details are dotted throughout the plot, and often is explained through story telling, meaning you don’t end up wading in pages of monotonous detail. The vividly describes world, creative and intricate details, created a magical backdrop for this story to be told on.

Life won’t just happen to you boy, You have to happen to it”

Overall I really enjoyed Strange the Dreamer. The writing is beautiful and the characters vivid and interesting, and I’m very excited to share with you all my opinions on Muse of Nightmares Thursday!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor Review

I had been told this novel was good, and that’s undeniable. The imaginative world, creative plot and exceptional writing dragged me straight into this exceptional story.

Our heroine, Karou, is a Prague teenager with lapis lazuli coloured hair who sketches mythical beasts that live behind magical doors and collect teeth. Her class, and the reader, believe she simply has a strong imagination, but it is soon revealed her secret world exists and is much more sinister than anything she has drawn. But when Karou is mysteriously cut off from her secret world she must finally face the question that has always plagued her: why was she raised by beasts?

“Work? Since when do you work?”

“I work. What do you think I live on, rainwater and daydreams?”

Half the novel is told in the present- following Karou and her mystical life in Prague, and her role in the teeth trade, while the other half tells Madrigal’s story, set in the past, who she is, and what life is like in her world. While I do enjoy a good backstory I found this novel lingered too much in the past. It felt less personal than the story being told in the present and had little details of Madrigals inner thoughts, although it did still touch on these. I didn’t like that we dipped away from the action in the present day, that had captivated me so much, to follow this backstory for so long. It felt a bit like starting a new novel right as the one I was reading got interesting- I wasn’t ready for more world building and character introduction. However, it was still an entertaining and a well written aside.

As the novel is split into these two dialogues it’s pacing is difficult to judge. While the parts that centre on the backstory felt a little longer than needed, mostly because I was desperate to get back to the present and read about Karou’s story, the parts that follow Karou was well paced and intriguing. I liked how the world building was done: first perceived through Karou’s sketchbook, and then through her own eyes. I particularly enjoyed descriptions of Karou’s life in Prague, with the ghost tour host of an ex boyfriend and bowls of Goulash with her best friend. Madrigal’s timeline was a little tricky to nail down as there were glimpses of her story interwoven throughout the novel. Her story was well written, but felt less personal than Karou’s as it wasn’t grounded in the real world, which made Karou’s story slightly more relatable.

It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.

The novel’s plot is fast paced and exciting, mostly revolving around Karou discovering the secrets of her mysterious life. There isn’t a build up to a big fight at the end or any kind of resolution, the entire novel centers around Karou discovering who Madrigal was. The twist at the end wasn’t exactly surprising but I didn’t mind since it was designed more to shock Karou than the reader. The novel is clearly building up to its sequel and, although it doesn’t involve any finite resolution, the author tells an exciting mystery interwoven with lots of action and revelations, making the novel entertaining in its own right.

What really made this novel was the writing style. Beautiful descriptions, delicate imagery and vivid scenes are dotted throughout the novel. Some scenes and backstories were a bit graphic for me, making me feel a little uncomfortable (I’m not a reader for gore). The sense of foreboding throughout the novel is always present in Karou’s story, giving the novel a haunting aspect. The writing style is creative and the author balances well personal thoughts, banter, descriptions and world building.

She moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx”

I’d say this novel is aimed at older readers. The atmosphere is sinister at times and some scenes are more graphically told than I would have liked, as mentioned. It felt more like New Adult (if only it were a proper genre, alas) than young adult, although it doesn’t contain any sexual content.

The theme of good and evil is prominent throughout the novel. Karou is often questioning if her boss and father figure, Brimstone, is good and the novel holds the overall message about not judging too quickly. Karou delves into Christian imagery often when debating Akiva and his kind but the novel didn’t take any religious turns, thankfully. Karou constantly wonders what the teeth are being used for and often addresses how the sentient beasts she calls her family would be considered monsters in her world. References to real life prejudices and war made me think the author was trying to make a point, reinforced by the Romeo and Juliet type plot, but this wasn’t explored too much within the novel.

Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters?

In this novel we only meet a handful of characters, but all of them are well developed. Even Madrigal’s sister’s, Chiro’s, motives and thoughts are explored which makes the characters powerful and personal to the reader. I liked Karou’s dry wit and sarcastic narrative, but found Madrigal complacent in comparison- she showed a lot less spunk in her narrative. Karou’s best friend, Zuzana, was an easy favourite for me, with her quick humour and quips, the slightly dark banter between the two girls being a real highlight of the novel. It was a shame she was only in half the novel, although this couldn’t be helped, and I’m hoping to see more of her in the sequel.

It’s not like there’s a law against flying.”

“Yes there is. The law of gravity.

Overall I did enjoy this novel. It is well written and the characters were easy to like and well developed, the mystery complete and insolvable. My only criticism would be that Madrigal’s chapters could have been more dotted throughout the novel than all in one chunk. I did like that they explained a lot of things in Karou’s present but it felt too much like tangent being placed directly in the middle of Karou’s story.

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5