Review: Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor (Strange the Dreamer #1-2)

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I have been on the fence about reading this series for a long, long time. Would I like it, would I hate it? The reviews were unclear. Well, when I finally gave it a try, it turned out to be a little bit of both – very atmospheric at the start, but after the egregious cliffhanger ending of the first book and the plot devolving into a mess in the second, I slowly lost interest. That’s the trouble of books based purely on vibes, when they lose you, they lose you.

Lazlo, an orphan and a junior librarian, has dreams of the strange lost city of Weep. It’s his passion and subject of much obsessive research. When he gets the opportunity to go along with the party led by a warrior known as the Godslayer and help save the city he knows so much about, he jumps at the opportunity.

So. This book had one of the strongest beginnings I’ve seen. The vibes with Lazlo dreaming about strange, unknown places and stories and working in the library were exquisite. Even though it’s quite a dark and fucked up book, there’s a real childlike sense of wonder present too and I couldn’t help but read on and on and on for most of the first book. Even the instalovey romance and the weird focus on fertility as womanhood didn’t especially bother me. It just clicked and I needed to know more about the world.

But the first book ends with one of the worst cliffhangers I ever encountered (I’m glad I listened to the warnings and bought both books when I did) and then it just goes downhill. I’m glad it wasn’t a whole book of another character tormenting Lazlo as it briefly looked like at the start, but what we got wasn’t great. The plot falls apart in the second book with more and more worldbuilding reveals being pulled out of nowhere and an entirely new plotline that felt increasingly tacked on and unnecessary. Plus the author was afraid of letting any characters at all actually die. I think what bothered me is that the second half is supposed to be slowly tying things together, not continuing to expand – and I prefer the focus to be tight.

A real shame with how promising the start was.

Enjoyment: from 4.5/5 at the start to 2/5 by the end
Execution: first book 4/5 (ignoring that awful cliffhanger), second book 2.5/5

Recommended to: those looking for vibes and wonder and bookish protagonists
Not recommended to: anyone who hates cliffhangers or instalove or secretly special protagonists or when authors refuse to commit to characters dying

Content warnings: rape (in backstory, but very very bad) and abuse

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