Book Review: Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

Now available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_strange_the_Dreamer.jpgThe most beautiful books are always the hardest to review, and whatever I write, it is difficult to capture the sheer beauty that is Laini Taylor’s prose, while embracing the mesmerising surreality of the worlds she conceives. Her style is lyrical, evocative, and rich with imagination. Strange the Dreamer is unlike any tale you may read this year, but suffice to say it is an immersive, magical read with a taste of romance and tragedy. Add this to your reading list this winter.

They say that the dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around, and Lazlo Strange has always been a dreamer. A war orphan and a librarian, Lazlo has always been fascinated in fairy tale and myth, particularly that concerning the lost city known as Weep. But what happened to the city 200 years ago, when it was cut from the world? And why – how? – did it lose its name, 15 years ago? Lazlo has always wondered, but feared he would not be the one to find it. For he is just a librarian, no hero, no golden alchemist, no legend in the making. However, when a living legend, the man they call the Godslayer, suddenly appears on the doorstep – together with a band of unusual beasts and heralded by a great white bird – Lazlo realises he cannot let this opportunity slip through his fingers.

But Weep is not the city he has dreamed of. It is buried in sadness and burdened with a past that haunts even those that can no longer remember it, hidden in the shadows of the mysterious “gods”. These gods may have been destroyed, but their presence still lingers on in the darkness and the flicker of a moth’s wing, and in the shattered hearts of those touched by the tragedy of their reign.

The prose is exquisite and rich, the characters wonderfully real. Between these pages there is heartbreak and hope, both bittersweet and beautiful. Taylor has taken the traditional tale: the orphaned underdog rising to become the hero, but given it a fresh twist and an exotic taste. It will entrance you, surprise you, and haunt you long after that final page is turned.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Strange the Dreamer
by Laini Taylor
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781444788976

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Supernaturally – Laini Taylor and Elizabeth Knox, WORD Christchurch, 31 August

Laini Taylor is one of my writing idols. When her attendance at the WORDword-LainiTaylor
Christchurch festival was announced I was absolutely delighted. I would like to think I was among the first to purchase my ticket for this event − in which she and Elizabeth Knox discuss the supernatural world of Young Adult writing. This discussion was hosted by local speculative
fiction writer, Helen Lowe.

I enjoy the panel-style format such as this, where it rather resembles a friendly discussion, to which I am a welcome eavesdropper. The camaderie between Elizabeth, Laini and Helen was open and friendly, and it was
wonderful to see that each participant was familiar with the other’s
work. Neither dominated the discussion and comments bounced back and
forth in a lively, animated manner.

Helen’s questions were insightful, both to readers and aspiring authors. She began with asking why they create supernatural/fantastic worlds – in which Laini admitted to tricking people into reading high fantasy (her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy starts from an urban fantasy
perspective). Elizabeth attributed it to her older sister, who made the world magical. Other topics took us through the laws of magic, the hero’s journey trope (which elizabeth_knoxneither author follow consciously), and other such popular Young Adult themes as strong female characters, insta-love and love triangles. Elizabeth Knox (left)  described the latest trend towards paranormal romance as “the cuckoo laid in the nest of fantasy”.

I also learned that the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, one of the
best I have ever read, began when Laini was seeking relief from a
challenging novel and began with free writing and discovery of the
characters of Karou and Brimstone. Certainly a most serendipitous
occurance, and one that I (and I imagine many others) am most grateful
for. Writing a novel, she informed us, is a little like swimming from
buoy to buoy, capturing spontaneity in short bursts.

Overall, a very rewarding discussion that both intrigued me as a reader
and inspired me as a writer. I could have listened to the two of them
all day!

by Angela Oliver, writer, artist and reviewer for Booksellers NZ

Exciting Tales and All Right Release, and Creating Worlds, at WORD Christchurch, Saturday 30 August

As a writer, bookseller and dedicated bibliophile, I make it my practice to attend as many literary events as I can. It is fun to recognise faces, and engage in networking, as well as meeting some of the authors that I admire. Today, at the Christchurch WORD festival, there was the chance to do a bit of both, along with making some new discoveries. Today, I attended three of the events, the following two of which were free.

The first event was Exciting Tales and All Right? Book Launch at 11.30 am, hosted by librarian and children’s book blogger/expert, Zac Harding. cv_felix and the red ratsThree authors, two of which are local faces, read selected pieces from their books. The first to take the stand was James Norcliffe, poet, writer and educator.  He had selected two passages from his tale x and the Red Rats, a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. This tale is an entwined narrative of two different words − blending the modern and the fantastical. In his strong, expressive manner, Norcliffe first revealed to us the mystery of the red rats, then took us on a pig-bound flight of fancy.

He was followed up by Desna Wallace, school librarian, bookseller and author, reading from her story, Earthquake. Part of the “My Story” range for Scholastic, it is written in diary format. She took us back to April, 2011, after the second of the major earthquakes, and to a time of relative calm, allowing us to re-live the royal wedding through the eyes of her (fictional) narrator.

Third up was Melinda Syzmanik, cv_a_winters_day_in_1939a prolific and experienced professional author. Her chosen reading was taken from A Winter’s Day in 1939, another NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults finalist – and winner of the Librarian’s Choice Award at the LIANZA Book Awards. Whilst a fictional story, this tale developed from her father’s own experiences in Poland during World War II. Beautifully told, it transported us into 12-year old Adam’s world, and the uncertainity he faced as he and his family were transported to a Russian work camp. Her language is compelling, and left me eager to learn more.

With the readings finished, it was time for the All Right? book launch. This nifty little staple-bound chapbook was available for free, and contains poetry from the very talented students from the School for Young Writers. After a brief introduction, we were treated to short readings from the children, ranging in age from Year 5 to Year 11. All spoke with confidence and clarity, stepping boldly up to the microphone (in some cases they were barely visible over the podium) and reading out their imagery-rich pieces. Their evocative prose, to say so much in so few words, left me feeling like a rank amateur. A particular favourite of mine was “Dust Mite Mountains”.

After that, it was time for a short break before the next event, Creating Worlds, in which five wonderful young adult novelists − two international − read from their works. This was one of the events I was most excited about, as two of the authors are particular favourites of mine. Once again, each guest was skilfully introduced by Zac Harding.

The first to step up to the elizabeth_knoxpodium was Elizabeth Knox, author of The Vintner’s Luck and the Dreamhunter duet. She read a passage from Mortal Fire, winner of the NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, in the Young Adult category. Her selected passage tied in loosely with the “Dreamhunter / Dreamquake” duo.

word-LainiTaylorFollowing her up was Laini Taylor, from Portland, America. One of my favourite writers, her writing has enchanted me since I first discovered it, and she selected a passage from the wonderful Daughter of Smoke and Bone, first announcing that she had chosen the most embarrasing chapter for her to read aloud, and then keeping us spellbound through it. With her lyrical language combined with the wry humour and her rather charming accent, it was an excellent way to re-experience her writing.

Next up, Karen Healey took the stage. She is both author and a school teacher with a strength of character and charisma that added extra charm to her tellings. Instead of reading to us from one of her books, of which there are four, she read us a short story from her smart phone. Entitled “Careful Magic” it is to feature in an anthology, and one I shall definitely consider purchasing. Her tongue-in-cheek humour and rich use of language shone through.

Tania Roxborogh then read us a passage from her novel Third Degree. Her dialogue was very clever, and her rather descriptive prose as her narrator was being treated for serious burns had us wincing at the imagery.

WORD-Web-Event-INTERESTINGWe concluded with American author Meg Wotlizer, whom I am ashamed to say I was unfamiliar with previously. This is something I intend to remedy! Her chosen piece was taken from the not-yet-released-in-NZ Belzhar,  a novel inspried by Sylvia Platt’s The Bell Jar (which all of the authors, but few in the audience, had read).  The short piece she read to us had me instantly hooked, and I am definitely going to be hunting down a copy of this one to read in full!

Overall, it was a wonderful opportunity to hear the authors read their work, giving it the passion that it clearly deserves, and I felt privileged to be able to attend.

by Angela Oliver, writer, artist, bookseller and reviewer

Book Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters, by Laini Taylor

Available from bookstores now.

GIVEAWAY: We are giving away the first two volumes in this trilogy, on our Facebook page.

Laini Taylor first came into my awarenesscv_dreams_of_gods_and_monsters in 2011 with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It is a beautiful book: dark and haunting with eloquently writing and an original twist on the whole angels vs demons theme that was attaining popularity in the time. I was hooked, devouring it within days. The second, likewise, kept me hanging on to every word, savouring the delicate bouquet of the prose, with my hands shaking in anticipation.

So, you might say that I was rather looking forward to this, the final, instalment.
And I am pleased to say, it did not disappoint.

The trilogy begins in Prague, Czech Republic, with blue-haired Karou and her feisty friend, Zuzanna. Karou divides her time between drawing strange and distorted creatures in her sketchbook – creatures that may be real – and running mysterious “errands” that take her across the world. There is more to her than even she knows, and when a beautiful stranger fixes his fiery eyes on her, the dark threads will begin to unravel.

What begins is a tale of a war that has spanned countless generations: a war of treachery and violence between two ancient races. A war in which Karou holds the key to redemption, but first she must find herself.

I do not wish to say much more, for too much information will give away a plot that, I feel, is richer to experience than be told. So instead, here is the tagline from book one, which says all you need to know, pre-reading, really:
Once upon a time an angel and a demon fell in love.
It didn’t end well.

If you have not read the first two books: Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight than I do not recommend you begin with this volume, as you would only be letting yourself down. Find the first one, engulf yourself in the prose, enjoy the wry humour, the clever quirks of the characters (you’ll love Zuzanna, believe me) and the impressive scope of the author’s imagination. Allow yourself to be swept away, first through the exotic streets of Prague and then further still, into worlds you could not dare imagination.

Through the second, your body will be racked with tension, nails digging into your palms and trying to squeeze back the tears that threaten to leak from the corners of your eyes. It is a dark book, haunted with melancholy and more than a little angst, but no less exquisite for it.

But be grateful, for unlike me you do not have to wait – the third, and final, book is here and waiting for you. And it is majestic in scope. All the characters you love are there; you will laugh, you will cry. And you will not be able to put it down.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Dreams of Gods & Monsters
by Laini Taylor
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781444722741