Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

20560137.jpgTitle: An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1)

Author : Sabaa Tahir

Publisher : Razorbill

Release date : April 28th, 2015

Rating : 3.4/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

⚜ Review :

An Ember in the Ashes was waaaay too over-hyped. Reviews from people I follow, headlines assuring us “it’s the next Game of Thrones”, comments from authors I know and respect. Everything indicated towards the absolute genius of this novel, and I was absolutely excited to get my hands on it.

When I saw the map at the beginning, I was like “oh boy, I’m in for a ride!”, because I LOVE maps, and it usually foretells a pretty amazing, adventurous and fantastical story for the readers. You know it, I know it: there are always new cities and groundbreaking discoveries and new cultures and candies for the imagination. And here is my first (the biggest) disappointment: An Ember’s world-building is mediocre. The Empire is supposed to be a vast expanse of wealth and power, and yet, what the map shows is that it’s actually Blackcliff and wasteland. We know nothing of this Empire, except for the contradicting authority of an all-powerful yet easily killed Emperor, the sparse history bits of how society turned on its head, the brutal way in which the elite student soldiers are being treated, the investment they represent in the way they’re being trained and, ultimately, the waste it operates by killing off most of them by the end of their training. Oh, did I forget to mention the Trials? The Trials are a series of tests, from which the new Emperor will rise. Basically, they are four giant bloodbaths, which disregard anything related to diplomacy, money management, land management and, really, anything to do with being a political leader. Is that it? That is it. I feel completely underwhelmed by the lack of information, of anything else, that could actually have contributed to a “world-building”.

The Augurs, mysterious beings with some sort of magic, can see the future. And what a future they’ve seen for our male protagonist! Elias’ story revolves around a prophecy they saw. At the beginning, Elias had a goal and some ways to achieve it, but the revelation that he’s destined for something greater makes him question everything, and that’s what keeps him moving in Ember. I liked Elias. No love, no admiration, just like. He’s one of the top students at Blackcliff, but he doesn’t agree with its values and how it modeled him. He’s very smart and strong and talented, skilled with weapons and quick on his feet. He’s a pretty picture of a protagonist, and that’s why I can’t not like him. But, as you can tell, my interest is merely superficial.

Laia, on the other hand… I would’ve liked her as a normal person, but she couldn’t handle the situation she’s in. Laia is not a warrior or a seasoned spy. Her family was betrayed by their own, and she lives in constant fear of being sold as a slave. Her brother, the only family she has left, was taken from her, so she’s desperate to find him. She goes to immense lengths to form alliances that could help her out, but selflessness and naivety aren’t a great mix. For a person living in those circumstances, one would expect them to toughen up a little, to be guarded and wary. But holy hell, she’s not. She can’t even stand up for herself, and falls in the trope of the damsel in distress, waiting for a hero to save her. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t tell you why, but keep in mind that she lacks common sense in what is probably the most dangerous period of her life. However, I like her liveliness, and her determination. Her chapters weren’t dull, at least.

As for the secondary characters, my feelings are mixed. My favorite character in the whole book is Helena, Elias’ best friend. She’s feminine and badass, two traits we rarely see in one character. She’s pretty well fleshed-out, having her own pages from time to time. She has her own ideals, and doubts, and doesn’t follow Elias around like a good puppy but really stands up to him. But, I guess, in order to create a balance with an amazing secondary character, Tahir had to create an amazingly flat one. The Commandant is just pure evil. That kind of unalloyed sadism doesn’t have its place in a book with a proficiency with character nuances. She has all the power she needs, BUT isn’t it fun to mutilate the truly helpless just for fun?? Please recycle her.

Something I really liked was the romance. I use the word “romance” lightly here, as I wouldn’t label it as romance or love, but more like attraction. Elias and Laia, the main protagonists, didn’t fall in love, as I expected. What I mostly felt between them was attraction, because they’re both in bad situations. But what really got my attention is how Tahir handled the making of a love triangle. It was much more reasonable and interesting than most YA love triangles I’ve read so far. In most YA novels, the girl (because, sadly, it’s usually a girl) can’t decide who to choose between a swoony-perfect-kind boy and a swoony-misunderstood-bad boy. OR, to make things even LESS interesting, who to choose between two EQUALLY swoony-perfect-kind boys. But what I realized in Ember, is that this triangle isn’t about which one is cuter, but rather about whose personality would actually complement the other’s. It’s about what path choosing one over the other would lead to, and about choosing and prioritizing what matters. I have my own personal ship, but I fear it may not be the best one for the person in the middle of this triangle. So I’m probably in for some heartbreak.

The writing in itself was fairly good. Tahir didn’t shy away from creating a dark and miserable world, where rape is abundant (too often mentioned, even) and slavery is common. Although we don’t see an explicit rape scene, Tahir manages to make us feel its threat strongly enough that she doesn’t need to include any scenes of sexual assault. There are, however, loads of bloody violence. There is nothing juvenile about Ember, and I believe adults will enjoy it just as much as teens.

Overall, some things didn’t click with me, and those flaws pop out too clearly to my eyes. I wasn’t as excited as I expected to be, but An Ember in the Ashes is, nevertheless, a very strong debut YA fantasy novel.

 

Book Review: Free Space by Sean Danker

31579983Title: Free Space (Evagardian #2)

Author : Sean Danker

Publisher : Ace Books

Release date : May 2nd, 2017

Rating : 2.5/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

“I’d impersonated a prince, temporarily stopped a war, escaped a deadly planet, and survived more assassination attempts than I could conveniently count. After all that, there shouldn’t have been anything simpler than a nice weekend with a charming Evagardian girl.

However, some corners of the galaxy aren’t as genteel as the Empire, and Evagardians aren’t universally loved, which is how I ended up kidnapped to be traded as a commodity.

Their timing couldn’t have been worse. I’m not at my best, but these people have no idea whom they’re dealing with: a highly trained, genetically engineered soldier in the Imperial Service who happens to be my date.”

⚜ Review :

Despite the humour and the obviously well-developed Universe, Free Space didn’t live up to my expectations.

I really liked Admiral, the first book of the Evagardian series. Notwithstanding its flaws, it managed to get my heart pumping and my head spinning from all the suspense and excitement! The ending left me with a lot of questions, so I was totally in for the sequel because I just had to know more, you know? Hence, when I was offered Free Space, I couldn’t wait to dive in! And guess what? SAME QUESTIONS, NO ANSWERS. Ok maybe I exaggerate a little, but the questions I was the most looking forward to discovering the answers of, weren’t answered at all! Who is the Admiral? What did he do? What’s the mystery behind the Empress? Can I get more elaborate explanations on these ships you’re talking about? How do the intergalactic journeys work? So many words I still couldn’t understand, or just outright forgot, because who really expects me to remember a fictional word one year after reading Admiral?? Even at the BEGINNING, I was confused. And a confusing start is an issue Danker should fix, because it was the same as with his first novel.

As you can imagine, I was more than annoyed when I still couldn’t make sense of it. Sometimes the author would say too much information, sometimes not enough. Occasionally it worked, especially in conversations. Those had the flow of normal conversations between two people, where you don’t understand everything because you’re the third wheel and they have their own little insides.

But readers can’t really appreciate those little moments because the plot was rolling too quickly. And I guess a fast pace should have been perfect for an action-packed, sci-fi story, right? But personally, I just feel as if essence was sacrificed for speed. I have absolutely no idea what Danker was trying to convey with this novel. I don’t know how to explain it; it just felt so superficial. Consequently, it was downright forgettable. Nowhere near as intriguing and compelling as the first, nowhere near the suspense, and the newness, and the alien-ness of the first. It was just a clumsy and disorganized story of half-competent kidnappers and confused “heroes”.

The Admiral is definitely smart and resourceful, and those are traits I greatly admire. I couldn’t really remember Salmagard, at first, but then it hit me and her working with Diana was a fantastic idea. It’s always great and interesting to read about badass heroines fighting their way to save their friends. Although some sudden bursts of philosophical thinking came out of the blue and were awkward, there is a lot of respect to circumstances and bodies’ limitations that many other books disregard completely. Actually, the world and people seem very realistic, thanks to the way they are detailed. I’m sad to say it’s just the storytelling that leaves something to be desired.

I definitely feel bad for not liking the book. It’s not my fault, I know, and yet, the feeling’s still there. As a parting note, let me say that Free Space was entertaining, nonetheless.

**Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for proving me with this book!

 

Interview with Sean Danker, author of the Evagardian series

Hello, everyone! Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Danker, author of the Evagardian series. The review of the first book of his series, Admiral, can be found here. The sequel, called Free Space, was published about a week ago, and I will post my review in a few days. Go check out this science-fiction story, as the adventure isn’t nearly over! 🙂

Sean Danker

  1. Hi, Mr. Danker! Thank you for agreeing to this interview! I would like to start with an all-time classic: Could you enlighten us a little bit about yourself?

Not much to tell; I got out of the military recently, and I do social work now. I like to bake and I recently took up the ukulele.

  1. Your first book Admiral was published last year. Congratulations! What are your new expectations for its sequel Free Space?

I just hope readers enjoy it and get into the Admiral story. It’s an unusual series, and it’s just getting started.

  1. What type of research did you do for your Admiral series?

The main thing I had to invent was Evagardian culture; everything else sort of stems from that. To do that I had to design an alternate history to explain why Evagard is the way it is. A lot of time went into the philosophy that underpins the Evagardian way of thought, and I looked into visual design from entertainment, around the world, and throughout history for  the aesthetic. For the story itself, there was a fair amount of reading in political science and military espionage.

  1. Are the twists prepared in advance or do they sometimes happen while writing?

Small things always happen organically during writing, but the major plot points were planned in advance. Every sentence of every book has the final destination in mind. As a result, there’s a lot of setup and foreshadowing that won’t come into focus until we’re a little deeper into the story.

  1. How do you feel you have developed as a writer since you started on your first book?

It’s been about fourteen years since my first one, which was an unreadable mess, and I’ve written dozens of novels since. These days I have more confidence, but I don’t expect to ever stop learning. There’s always a way to do a better job.

  1. If you could branch out in another genre, which one would it be?

I’ve already gone rogue and branched out irresponsibly into quite a few genres, though most of that is languishing unpublished. If I could pick which ones could make it to prime time next, I’d actually like it to be some of my cozy mysteries.

  1. Does your book have a lesson? A moral?

My feelings and beliefs are always at the core of the story, but I try not to be too preachy. The Admiral series is built on some pretty strong themes, but it’s always going to be up to the reader to interpret. In this particular series there are enough twists that you don’t want to make too many assumptions about where it’s going or what it’s trying to say. I set a lot of traps for readers.

  1. What was your favorite element to write about? (a character, an event, a description…)

Evagardian culture has evolved into an interesting topic, and the character of the Admiral is always tricky because I’m not sure there’s ever been a protagonist quite like him. Salmagard’s growth as a character was also very satisfying to write. She’s not as twisty and unorthodox as the Admiral, but she still finds ways to surprise readers.

  1. Is there something you wish someone would ask about Free Space? If yes, what is it, and please answer it!

My favorite question is “When’s the next book?” And the answer is I don’t actually know – but telling the publisher that you want it can’t hurt our chances to get it sooner.

  1. Last but not least, what are you currently reading?

Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown (and Sneaky Pie Brown)

  1. Voilà! Thank you so much for doing this.

Thanks for having me.

ARC Review: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

34514721Title: Defy the Stars

Author : Claudia Gray

Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release date : April 4th, 2017

Rating : 3.7/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

⚜ Review :

I had high expectations for Defy the Stars, among other things because Claudia Gray’s Firebird series was such a hit. In spite of the fact that it checked off some of my expectations, I still feel it fell a bit flat. But let’s start with the positive!

First of all, as the summary suggests, romance is one of the centerpieces of this novel. As a reader who’s been through too many failed romance plots, I was cautious and prepared for the worst. However, I was soooo pleasantly surprised when I realized that… hey, it develops at a slow, realistic and romantic way! The romance wasn’t rushed, nor did I find any trace of insta-love. On the contrary, Abel and Noemi didn’t like each other at first. Considering they’re on opposite sides, it’s understandable that they completely distrust each other, even when it is clear that Abel’s programming forces him to obey the “highest authority on the ship”. One of the highlights of the romance was, ironically, the subtlety of it. There was a good buildup to the romance, but it never takes too much space, nor does it ask for 15 minutes of fame. One of my friends told me once that he thought too many authors are unable to properly include romance without slowing down the entire storyline. Therefore, Gray did a pretty good job with Defy the Stars in terms of a love story. Which was actually adorable, by the way.

But the romance is Noemi’s and Abel’s dynamic as a duo. Unfortunately, as individuals, I wasn’t very invested. Don’t get me wrong; they aren’t annoying, or anything. They both have honorable qualities, and their banter is often enjoyable, but they just didn’t stimulate me enough. I had close to no reaction whatsoever about them.

Noemi is a good-hearted, selfless person. Her reputation is one of a bad-tempered and unpleasant young woman, but as a reader, I learnt that she’s quite bright and loyal. She’s also an incredibly brave and strong person, especially after what happens at the beginning of the book.

Abel, for his part, is an AI. But I thought his mind wasn’t robotic enough? I’m not saying that’s a character flaw, more like a writing flaw. To indicate he’s, after all, a robot, Gray adds in big numbers and calculations, and conscious thoughts about his difference to humans. Yet, the flow of his thoughts, the cadence and the rhythm are too human. The summary suggests he may be more than just a robot, but I guess I assumed this information would only affect the content of his thoughts, not the way they circulate. Be that as it may, as my reading progressed, I did get the sense that he became more human than before. I just wish I could have noticed a bigger development, instead of his being too human from the beginning.

The pace is good, and the plot didn’t leave room for dull moments. But I’m disappointed at the lack of “awe” I got from Gray’s world. Considering that it’s set in space, where possibilities abound, I expected more of a Wow Factor. We’re talking about whole new worlds, here! But maybe it was the goal, who knows? To showcase the Loop’s misery and desperation to find other planets to colonize. Still, I wonder what kind of research did Gray do? It seems like she touches a lot of subjects, from medicine to mechanics. She also included a lot of diversity (as we’re talking about Earthlings in general). Noemi herself has Chilean ancestry.

Throughout the story, there’s the recurrent theme of what it means to be human. I often see this theme, but I think it’s particularly relevant in Abel’s case, as his humanity and his “robocity” (?) are questioned. And it was amazingly well-handled, because I’m thoroughly convinced. There are other important themes, such as the environment and protecting our world, patriotism and following one’s path. It wasn’t a particularly remarkable story; it was blander than I expected from an intergalactic novel. But I admire the moral dilemmas highlighted in this book, and although the characters don’t always have the same values, they still help each other based on individuality.

Although my rating isn’t very good, I’m still looking forward to reading the sequel because the plot, in general, is interesting, and I want to follow the development, as it is still crucially relevant to our days.

Book Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu

20821111Title: The Young Elites

Author : Marie Lu

Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Release date : October 7th, 2014

Rating : 4/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

⚜ Review :

The Young Elites is definitely good and entertaining, but it didn’t compare to Lu’s other trilogy, Legend. It disappointed me, and I think my disappointment kicked 0.5 star out of my rating.

Don’t get me wrong: the writing is very good. Marie Lu is skilled with the pen (or the computer, however she writes), and her words flow well. It’s pretty, but not embellished; Lu doesn’t bother with too much flourish and poetry, she shows instead of tells. It’s straightforward, fitting for a story about an army of young elites, fighting for their rights and survival. If she does use a bit of extravagance, it’s to further highlight her characters’ misery.

The hours run together, an endless train of nothingness, filled with different slants of light and the shiver of cold, wet stone, the pieces of my sanity, the disjointed whispers of my thoughts.

I don’t think my preferred writing style, which I would describe as more… refined, would have been good for this story, so Marie Lu was perfect. Like I said, I thoroughly enjoyed Legend, which is one of my favorite series. The writing is engrossing and fast-paced, full of action and twists and turns, and it keeps me on the edge of my seat.

Her skill at writing characters is still very good. I really liked Adelina, although the negativity sometimes brought me down, which isn’t always the best way to make me like someone. But I somehow got over it, and appreciated some aspects of her. Although I do think she was too negative and somewhat overdramatic, I was pleasantly taken aback by the sheer darkness of her character, the insatiable thirst for revenge against the world, who has treated her horribly all her life. Through Lu’s incredible writing, we could feel the bitterness and rage in Adelina’s heart. Because of her miserable past, it awakens in her some ugly desires and ambitions that, despite everything, I totally understand. When have I read about a main character that has such a dark personality? She’s YA-typical in some sense, but definitely not in the sense of a “selfless bravery”. The other characters were cool as well, although there aren’t much character development. I read somewhere an expression that encompasses these kinds of characters, “static characters”. I don’t remember where, exactly, but if you know who started this term, please let me know!

What I enjoyed the most about the characters, though, is the relationship between Adelina and Raffaele. Raffaele is a consort… a courtesan. Um, you know what I mean? And according to the book, he’s… pretty darn gorgeous. Everything about him is crazingly attractive. But, but, but… he has a completely platonic relationship with our protagonist!! How refreshing! And how refreshing also, that the romance was light and not dominant like the usual YA we read.

I wasn’t impressed by the plot, per se, but I was impressed with the introduction of the Young Elites. Actually, it was positively the best part of the story. The Young Elites gave me an X-Men-esque feeling, and since I absolutely adore the X-Men, I was thrilled when we were introduced to the Elites, one by one. Going from Enzo to Raffaele, I often had the thought: “Wow, you seem so normal when you speak, but I know you could kill me in a second with a flick of your wrist!”. I’m not new to reading/watching this kind of story, so it wasn’t anything special, but I was entertained by the special abilities, and the Renaissance-inspired setting gave me a different vibe to an otherwise familiar story.

Bref, if you’re looking for a dark fantasy, without the commitment a full-on Fantasy usually requires, The Young Elites would be a good choice!

Wednesday’s Headline: Sean Danker & Sylvain Neuvel

Wednesday’s Headline is a series/feature on my blog where I will share with you my current read and my thoughts and expectations for them!

Hello, everyone! This Wednesday, I’m reading 2 books : Free Space (Evagardian #2) by Sean Danker and Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) by Sylvain Neuvel.

This time, I’m going back to my old habit of alternating between an eBook and a physical book, because why not 🙂 Also, as you may have noticed, these are two sequels, that I received as ARCs (and read a bit late, I’m sorry about that). The first book of each series is pretty good, so you should definitely check them out! 😀

[Pictures+summaries from Goodreads]

  1. Free Space (Evagardian #2) by Sean Danker

31579983

Summary:

“I’d impersonated a prince, temporarily stopped a war, escaped a deadly planet, and survived more assassination attempts than I could conveniently count. After all that, there shouldn’t have been anything simpler than a nice weekend with a charming Evagardian girl.

However, some corners of the galaxy aren’t as genteel as the Empire, and Evagardians aren’t universally loved, which is how I ended up kidnapped to be traded as a commodity.

Their timing couldn’t have been worse. I’m not at my best, but these people have no idea whom they’re dealing with: a highly trained, genetically engineered soldier in the Imperial Service who happens to be my date.”

Come onnnnn. If the summary is that funny, I can only assume the book will be as well! I expect to find the same sense of humour I enjoyed in the first one, and I’m all the more excited for it! I mean, we all expected this “highly trained soldier” would be the protagonist, right? Nope! It’s safe to say that I’m in for a ride!

     2.   Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) by Sylvain Neuvel

30134847

Summary:

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

Sleeping Giants was the first book of its kind that I’ve read, in the form of interviews and journal entries, and I was thoroughly impressed. I’m glad to say I encountered the same kind of vibe I got from the first one, and the story starts with a bang! Really looking forward to the outcome!

ARC Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor


28449207Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author : Laini Taylor

Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release date : March 28th, 2017

Rating : 5.3/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

⚜ Review :

I cannot begin to express my admiration towards this work of art, simply because there are no words to properly convey the absolute awe I felt during my reading. The story is so so so unique, like, how did someone even come up with this idea?! Strange the Dreamer is an ode to dreamers, and readers, and underdogs, to those who follow their dreams despite the odds, to those who dream differently than what they already have, and to so many more that I can’t possibly name them all.

Strange is the first book I’ve read of Laini Taylor, but from the reviews I read of her Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, I already knew her writing was beautiful. But I didn’t know at what extent. Strange is uncommon and strange and dense and rich, and it’s definitely not for anyone. There are some hard scenes, very hard and horrifying, things you discover about what happened to Weep that will make you weep in turn. It was actually so difficult to read about those, but also so vital to the comprehension, that I had to stop reading and imagine what it could entail.

“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

“Beautiful and full of monsters?”

“All the best stories are.”

(ARC, p. 115)

Beautiful and full of monsters; a dreamer belittled and put aside because of his improbable dreams, who is given the opportunity to follow them, to a mysterious and mythical city once ruled by terrible beings, who have done horrendous deeds. But even my own summary pales in comparison to what the story is really about, because it’s so much more than just Lazlo and Weep. These two are the ones who hooked me to the story. The mystery was intriguing and so intense, I just had to know what happened to Weep, and what its real name is. I was as invested in its riddle than Lazlo was.

And this just attests to the magnificence of the world Taylor created. Not only the world, but also the inhabitants: people with two hearts, pumping not only blood but also spirit. How awesome is that?? They live in a world exquisitely built by its author, from the hierarchy, to the mythology, to the geography. But despite all those details, I still feel there’s an immense potential to all the things we could still learn from Lazlo’s world. Laini Taylor is a master at unfolding her world with her writing and her timing.

I know some people think the beginning was slow. I admit that it was, but I’m one of the people who were captivated from the very beginning. And although it’s nearly two hundred pages into the story when Lazlo reaches Weep, I say they are two hundred necessary pages. It’s essential to understand Lazlo and the importance of his dreams, and to know the rest of the world apart from Weep, and although the beginning is slow, it is engrossing and it prepares you for the rest of the plot.

And how the words flow on her pages, ohhh… The way Taylor uses words is lyrical, evocative, lovely… The imagery is stunningly vivid, some passages are so dreamy you wish you could cocoon yourself in them. Some scenes feel so surreal, but so beautifully relevant at the same time. The sentences are so perfect, in fact, that sometimes they seem too perfect, but it fits perfectly with the dreamy and magical aspects of the story. When I said, above, that it is an ode, I meant it: Taylor’s words caress us just like a poem would. I was struck from the beginning by the elegance of her flow.

That was the year Zosma sank to its knees and bled great gouts of men into a war about nothing.

(ARC, p. 5)

Lazlo and Sarai were great characters as well, though I wouldn’t say they are YA-typical. I absolutely loved Lazlo and his absolute love of Weep. Being in his head while discovering things was a joy. But Lazlo, independently of Weep, is not the typical hero you would imagine. He’s unimpressive in almost all aspects, he isn’t swoony, isn’t flamboyantly brave. But he is very attractive in other ways, he is quiet and unselfish, has always been so. He loves books, and stories, and he is desperately loyal to his dreams. He’s thoughtful and kind and bright. In the summary, Sarai is the blue-skinned goddess, a mystery to all of Weep. Therefore, I won’t spend much time on her, except to say that she is just as good as Lazlo, and haunted by her own demons and inner conflicts, yet still retains her innocence. The cast of secondary characters are no less great. They are all so very complex and fleshed out, and I don’t think the story would have stood up so well without them. The banter and wittiness were incredible, and their interactions with each other helped to showcase the very best of Lazlo’s personality.

I think the romance verged a bit in insta-love, or “insta-fascination”. But it is so sweet, and well done, and I loved BOTH characters so much, and I think that is why I feel great with this insta-love. Because we already know them apart, each in their own individuality, their doubts and their hopes, and so when their stories finally merged, it felt as if it was completely natural that they feel an attraction to each other because of their personal stories.

All in all, Strange the Dreamer was a fantastic book, from top to bottom, in all aspects of literature, and it definitely is part of my Favorites list. I would recommend it to everyone who loves rich, intricate and beautiful stories.

**Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for providing me with this book!