Strange the Dreamer is the first book in a new duology by one of my favorite authors, Laini Taylor! This book was everything I loved about Taylor’s writing and former trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The book follows Lazlo Strange, who is a librarian, who has been obsessed since childhood with a mythical city called Weep. He believes that Weep is real and is fascinated by its history and downfall. Those around him are convinced it’s just a legend. His adventure starts when mythical warriors from Weep come to the Great Library seeking scholars to help them solve a problem. Lazlo jumps at the chance to go along, and when he gets to the magical city of Weep, he discovers the true nature of the problem. For hundreds of years, Weep was enslaved by cruel gods with blue skin who lived in a giant palace in the sky. Ten years ago, there was a battle between the gods and the people of Weep and the people overthrew their overlords, killing them. But, it left the palace in the sky blocking all the sunlight.
Unbeknownst to the people of Weep, five young god-children survived the massacre, and have been growing into teenagers in the floating palace. One is our other main character, Sarai, who has the magical ability to enter people’s dreams; she has been terrorizing the city of Weep with nightmares for the last ten years. But, over the years, she has gotten to know Weep’s fears, and seen her parent’s cruelty, and her sympathies for the people of Weep have grown. When Lazlo arrives, she realizes that not only does he have the most vivid dreams, but he can see her in his dreams, something no one has ever been able to do before.
At its core, this is a romance. Lazlo and Sarai fall in love, all within Lazlo’s dreams, and their courtship is as magical and fantastical as you can imagine! This book is also about the deep-seated hatred between two people who have hated and hurt each other for generations, and what it will take to overcome that. There are no real villains in the book, everyone has been damaged by this war and so the story is very deftly created, as you are sympathetic to all the characters and see where they are all coming from. You are rooting for them to overcome their differences and find a way to live together when you know that this will likely be impossible, and a return to war is inevitable.
As with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, one of the most remarkable parts of this book is the fantastical world she creates. Taylor’s worlds are so lush and unique–you know she has such a vivid imagination! It’s also the writing, Taylor has such a beautiful way with words (and metaphor and imagery), and this book was truly a joy to read. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who loves fantasy.
Full disclosure, this book does end with a serious cliffhanger. It’s one of two, and pretty much just cuts off in the middle. So if you really hate cliffhangers, you might want to wait until closer to when the second book comes out to read this. But definitely read it at some point!
Excuse me while I gush about Vengeance Road, by Erin Bowman! I absolutely adored this book! Plus, that cover!?! Swoon! I want to get the cover designer for one of my next books!
When her father is murdered for a journal revealing the location of a hidden guild mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers–and justice. What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat, and a surprising band of allies, among them a young Apache girl and a pair of stubborn brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, a startling truth becomes clear: some men will stop at nothing to get their hands on gold, and Kate’s quest for revenge may prove fatal.
Nothing in Vengeance Road is particularly novel or new. In fact, the book seems to run through several comfortable old tropes: girl disguises herself as boy (I did that one in my own book!), teen finds out there is something mysterious about her family after it’s too late, girl can’t stand cute boy until she realizes she can’t live without him, the Western trope of the search for gold and buried treasure. But, but, this is the perfect example of how old tropes can be phenomenal if they are executed well. And boy, are they executed well.
As a writer, you strive for an authentic voice for your character, which is often an ephemeral “you know it if you see it” (as in a failure of voice is only conspicuous in its absence). Not this book. The voice makes the book. The main character, Kate, sounds like she’s from the old west. The way she thinks, the way she talks, the euphemisms she uses. Here’s a quote:
“The bartender’s right ’bout one thing–the place is busy considering it’s the Lord’s day. What the stout fella don’t seem to realize is that a strong drink can numb the soul good as any prayer. Hell, I muttered ‘Oh, God’ ’bout a dozen times after I found Pa swinging, and it ain’t like it brought him back to life.”
The whole book is like that, It’s really fun to read.
Kate’s a great character, tough, determined, single-minded to a fault. She doesn’t want any help in her wild quest to avenge her Pa, knowing that it will probably spell her doom. When Jesse and Will refuse to let her travel alone, the friction between them is both comical and poignant. The romance that blooms between Kate and Jesse is sweet and believable, without being over the top. Waylan Rose and his Rose Riders make passable villains–tough, scary, cruel. We don’t actually see much of them, but they are bad-ass enough fill Kate’s journey with suspense and drama.
Bowman also does a great job of exploring the historical setting of this novel, in 19th century Arizona. The conflict and distrust between settlers and Native Americans plays an important role in the story and an interesting backdrop to the rest of the plot.
My main complaint, if I had one, would be that the plot is a bit predictable at times, especially the big revelation at the end, which I kinda saw coming. But, like I said, that’s not much of a complaint, because the prose and the characters were so enjoyable that I loved every minute of it!
A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which was one of my favorite books of 2016. Read my review HERE. A Torch Against the Night picks up immediately where the first book leaves off, with Laia and Elias seeking to flee the Martial Empire, and more specifically, Elias’s cruel and ruthless mother, the Commandant. Laia has just rescued Elias from execution, the twisted Marcus is the new Emperor, and Helene, Elias’s former best friend, is now Marcus’s Blood Shrike. The story spans across the Empire as Elias and Laia journey to Koff prison to free Laia’s brother Darrin.
It’s rare that a sequel lives up to its predecessor, but this one did! The book had plenty of action, with Laia and Elias relentlessly dogged by Helene, who has been charged with finding Elias and bringing him in. The magic of the world deepens, as the inkling of Laia’s powers are revealed, we learn more about the dark power that controls the Commandant, and new magical creatures are introduced. I loved seeing more of the Empire, especially the culture of the tribesmen Elias grew up with. As with the first book, the triangle of narration between Elias, Laia, and Helene is superb, showing all different sides of a complicated story. It’s even more effective here, as Helene’s POV reveals what’s going on back in the empire, as well as her conflict about being tasked with capturing Elias, the man she loves. As with the first book, she’s my favorite character, though I was technically rooting against her.
There were a few things I didn’t love, in particular one big reveal about one of the characters who wasn’t who we thought he/she was (no spoilers!), which just seemed strange and out of place to me. The scenes in Koff with the Warden weren’t my favorite either; I didn’t buy how creepy and dangerous he was supposed to be. I also felt like the storyline about the Nightbringer and the fallen star were almost unnecessary, it took away from the more compelling storyline about the Empire and the interpersonal conflict. The human villains of the Commandant and Marcus were scarier and more evil than the supernatural villain. But I see that it’s a big part of the set up for book 3, so perhaps that will develop in more satisfying ways in the next book.
Tahir creates a captivating and deadly world populated with brave but flawed characters. I highly recommend this one! I listened to the audiobook version, and the three narrators who played Laia, Elias and Helene were fabulous as well!
Crooked Kingdom is the much anticipated sequel to Six of Crows. Six of Crows was one of my favorite books of 2016 (check out my review here) and so I was giddy with anticipation for the sequel! For the most part, I was not disappointed!
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are both heist novels, focused on the devious and dangerous Kaz Brekker and his crew. The story picks up right where Six of Crows leaves off, with the crew reeling from being double-crossed by Jan Van Eck, who has captured Inej. It is up to Kaz and the gang to rescue Inej, and double cross Van Eck right back to get the million he owes them. All without running afoul of the other gangs of Ketterdam, or the powerful nations who are descending on their city, in order to locate Kuwei, who is the only one who knows how to create jurda pardem, the dangerous new drug that dramatically heightens Grisha power.
As with Six of Crows, this is such a fun read. The plots upon plots keep coming fast and furious throughout the book. You think the crew is backed into a corner, only to find out it was all part of Katz’s plan after all. There are fights, break-ins, and double-crosses galore. But, there are some legitimate twists and turns that the crew have to navigate in order to get their money, defeat their foes, and come out alive. The characters deepen their relationships in this book, as you learn more about each of them, especially Jesper and Wylan. Despite each of their flaws, the crew is so tight-knit a family that you can’t help but want to hang out with them. The romantic relationships deepen as well, and Bardugo does an excellent job of showing Kaz struggle with his feelings for Inej, and try to overcome his aversion to closeness so he can be with her.
This was a fabulous book, but I didn’t like it as much as Six of Crows. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a major event towards the end of the book that I think was unnecessary to the plot and really pissed me off as a reader. It seemed thrown in there and out of place for the rest of the book. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself. Even with that complaint, it was still fabulous, and I highly recommend this duology!