I read Strange the Dreamer when it came out last year because Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is one of my favorites. And I really enjoyed it – I loved the dream-like quality of the story and the writing, and the world-building and magical system were phenomenal. Lazlo was such a compelling and healthfully masculine lead and his “courtship” with Sarai was one of my favorite creative relationship developments ever. And while it didn’t live up to DOSAB, at least for me, I have consistently recommended it since reading it. In fact, it’s one of those stories that grows in your mind after finishing, getting better with age. All that to say that, when Muse of Nightmares was finally published, I was ready and excited!
“Once upon a time, a girl did the impossible, but she did it just a little too late.”
This book picks up exactly where the first leaves off, like down to the fact that each character is actually standing in the same place that we left them. (Before we go any further…this review will likely contain Strange the Dreamer spoilers, but I’ll keep it clean for Must of Nightmares. Just FYI.) Lazlo and Sarai are finally able to spend “real” time together, outside of dreams, but things are even more complicated than before. With the people of Weep aware that the gods are not all dead (and learning that their beloved Lazlo is one of them) and Minya’s long harbored hatred and fear hardening it’s hold on her, all our characters are caught in a struggle between forgiveness/moving on or continuing to fight a battle none of them started. At the same time, a new foe emerges as the secrets of the citadel are slowly revealed. And though Sarai is feeling more and more useless as she adjusts to “life” as a ghost and figuring out the re-balancing of her power, maybe this is her chance to go beyond what she always thought her power’s barriers were – can she be more than just a Muse of Nightmares?
Let me just start by saying that this 500+ page book passed in the blink of an eye. The story picks up right where the previous one left off and doesn’t let go for a second. I know that some feedback about Strange the Dreamer was that it was almost too slow-burn. I cannot lie, I was originally of that opinion. I loved the dream-like quality of the writing, as it matched the story being told perfectly, but it was just not, at least at the time, my favorite pacing style. In this sequel, Taylor picks up the speed dramatically. The world-building and character set-up are, for the most part, already set at this point, so the plot (and more intimate character details) can be fleshed out faster and at a higher tempo. We find out more about the godspawns’ powers, what the citadel was actually doing with all those babies that were born up there, and more. It’s fast-moving reveal after reveal and, even for some of the smaller ones, the hits just keep coming. Plus, getting a little glimpse into the past and the motives of Skathis, is both fascinating and, truly, horrifying.
The transition of the first book into this one, and the general wrap-up of the story that combined closing the doors of the past and opening those of the future, was perfect. And I love the ways that Sarai’s self-discoveries and growth allow the story to end in a totally unexpected way. I love a giant fictional battle scene as much as anyone, and there are also great moments related to that throughout this story, but the creativity and humanity in the way this one ends is phenomenal. After the way everything is wrapped up with this second installment, the whole story has been catapulted up and up, in my opinion, after finishing the entire tale. Also, I cannot say how much I love the magic in this universe – it’s creative and malleable and philosophical and just, everything you want a fantastical magical world to be. Plus, if you have read Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (which, if you haven’t, I highly recommend), there are a few crossover mentions towards the end of this book that had me completely jaw-dropped – for a nerdy little reader who fell in love with them enough to make my husband read them (this was a couple years ago now, but the point is, he doesn’t read nearly as much as I do, so I have to carefully choose and really believe in the ones I recommend), those references made my heart sing.
As for characters, Lazlo, Sarai and all the godspawn (especially Minya and Sparrow!) learning more about themselves and their power (the limits and consequences and possibilities) is absolutely fascinating. And just like Newt Scamander (tell me I’m not the only one to have drawn this parallel), Lazlo Strange is the healthy and emotional new brand of hero that the world needs – not only fighting the evil of the fantasy world, but also the toxic masculinity in our own world. Azareen and Eril-Fane come a long way in this book as well, and it’s hard to read because of all the time they lost, but the hope for what they could still have is bright and wonderful. As a smaller note, Thyon Nero’s side-story of personal growth and discovery is a gentle and heart-warming addition. And last, and this will be the hardest part to write without spoilers, the new characters/relationship: sisters Kora and Nova. I really can only say that they broke my heart. I was sloppy with tears over their story. And I don’t say this to talk you out of reading it, but to convince you that the emotions are completely worth it – gorgeously and heart-touchingly rendered. Ahhhhh, I don’t know how Taylor does it, but it’s amazing.
I only have good things to say about this sequel, and the duology overall. It’s intricate, deep and emotional in both world-building and character development. It’s magic and story-telling at it’s finest. And it speaks to so many deeper, and real, issues in a fantastical way – like all great fantasy. Like I said, this adventure had me from the very first page and never let go.
Enjoy some of my favorite quotes/moments:
“This was a place where moths were magic and gods were real, and angels had burned demons on a pyre the size of a moon. Here, death was not the end.”
“Her apocalypse still boiled inside her, but it always did. It always did.”
“Hate those who hate you.”
“She was sky and night and everything, suns and novas and the surface of the sea.”
“Hope was luster, and they had shone with it like twin pearls in an oyster.”
“I am something […] And one day you will know it.”
“But that’s another story.” – CROSSOVER REFERENCE TO DOSAB
“We might be at odds, hate each other, and desire each other’s destruction, but in our despair, we are lost in the same darkness, breathing the same air as we choke on our grief.”
“Once upon a time there was a silence that dreamed of becoming a song, and then I found you, and now everything is music.”
“Once upon a time, a girl did the impossible, but she did it just a little too late.” (TEARS)
“Wishes don’t just come true. They’re only the target you paint around what you want. You still have to hit the bull’s-eye yourself.”