I don’t say this lightly – because I literally can’t – but Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer is one of my all time favorite books. That’s right. Not of last year. Not of its genre. But of all time. It was such a jaw-droppingly gorgeous book, a masterclass in storytelling, that if I could experience a book for the first time all over again, it would be this book series.
Because I loved the first book so much, I naturally waited months to read the sequel, though I had it for some time now. I didn’t want to finish this duology too soon, y’know? Even as I was finally reading it, I kept having to hold myself back, savour the experience instead of gobbling up the book whole. Not that it helped very much considering how much of a page-turner Laini Taylor’s books are.
I finished Muse of Nightmares within three days and… wow. Just. Wow.
In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.
Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the Muse of Nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.
As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?
Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this astonishing and heart-stopping sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.
Here’s the thing, when I bought Strange the Dreamer sometime last year or so, I literally had no idea what the story was about. I wasn’t even entirely sure if it was high fantasy or not. Yes, I read the summary at the back but only just barely. Yes, I watched booktubers review it but even they couldn’t succinctly explain the story. All I knew was that it had a beautiful cover, an alluring title, and an influx of raving reviews. When I started reading it, I was blown away by how immersive and vivid the story was. I was floored at how expansive the seemingly simple fantasy tale was. I mean, the first book was packed with so much history, lore, and character yet not once was I ever lost.
Muse of Nightmares picked up exactly where Strange the Dreamer left off and just when you think we’re only following one storyline – BOOM! – turns out there’s even more layers to the story, spanning literally different universes, and the characters we all know and love are in even bigger danger than they were already in. Words can’t describe how Laini Taylor expertly unraveled such a complicated story. I couldn’t help but care about the characters in it, regardless of which “side” they were in.
What’s even more incredible about this book was how it conveyed its message. Muse of Nightmares, at its core, is all about redemption and how everyone – even the worst of the worst – can be saved. And considering how much vile and hate predominate the world today, it’s a really important message.
There’s a lot I can talk about but even if I spend an entire day singing praises for this duology, it won’t still wouldn’t accurately describe my love for this book. This duology perfectly executes an intricate and poignant story, with authentically human characters that you can’t help but feel for, and set in a sweeping story world that’s so magical yet so nuanced that you really feel that you’re there.
Strange the Dreamer vs Muse of Nightmares
Even though this sequel starts off exactly where the first book ended, Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares are fundamentally different books. Don’t get me wrong, they’re written more or less with the same beautiful prose but their themes are wholly different thus they tell two completely different stories.
Strange plunged me into an evocative world of magic and gods and seraphs. The bulk of its story was dedicated to bringing us into this fantasy world. Where in some books this much focus on the worldbuilding gets in the way of the story, Strange‘s world is deeply connected to what happens in the storyline that the expositions don’t break the action but supplant the story.
What I noticed in Strange was that it was very focused on showing us readers that hope exists even in the darkest moments. Even an entire city enslaved and terrorized by gods, generations traumatized forever, held on to hope that they could all move past through such a horrible period in their history. There’s a lot more to the story, of course, but hope is the overarching feeling that I got from the first book.
Muse of Nightmares, on the other hand, took what the first book laboriously built and expanded on it until the rich tapestry of the story was unveiled. Hope is one thing but taking action, taking responsibility, that’s how you build a better future. Muse gives us two outwardly obvious villains but also shows us that although these antagonists take heinous actions, they genuinely believe they are doing right. This sequel emphasizes just how insidious hate can be, how it can fester and rot if left unchecked. Hate is the real villain of this story.
In this sequel, we got to know more about the other characters. For the most part, Sarai and Lazlo weren’t even the central focus of the book, though they did have the most screen time. This book let us get to know the characters who seemed like antagonists in the first book which made them more sympathetic and real.
I loved Muse so much. It was such a compelling read that captured my heart and soul. Really, my only complaint – and it’s not even really a complaint so much as a mild annoyance – was the, let’s say, overindulgence of thirsty moments with Lazlo and Sarai. I know that they’re essentially hormonal teens who’ve never been in a romantic relationship before so they’re quite eager to try everything but… I got a bit tired by the third time they smooched. Reading those scenes I was like “get a room you two!” and then they would but, sadly, we’re also in the room with them and it was just… bleh.
All things considered… I genuinely cannot choose which book I preferred. So it’s a tie.
I loved Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares equally. The duology ultimately told one cohesive story but the way each book delivered it was perfect for the message it meant to convey.
Does it Hold Up?
Muse of Nightmares was a perfect sequel, in my opinion, because it gave readers the a bigger picture but not to the point that it overshadowed predecessor. It also didn’t feel like just the second half of Strange the Dreamer because Muse of Nightmares had a separate story to tell.
For real, this duology was a ride from start to finish. I cannot recommend this book enough. I’m a little sad that it’s over though but it ended exactly where it needed to and didn’t drag things out just for the sake of it so I can’t really complain. The ending did hint at more stories to come but probably not with Sarai and Lazlo’s which, while I love those characters, I’m fine with. I’m open to reading about different people in Taylor’s story world.
Anyway, I’ve been reviewing rather popular books for this series but next month I’ll be doing something different. I’m gonna tackle the sequel to one of my favorite fantasy series last year, Spellslinger. It’s a severely underrated book that deserves so much more recognition from the mainstream. I actually wrote a whole thing about it last year. The sequel, Shadowblack, has been sitting on my TBR shelf for close to a year now and I cannot wait to read it.