Title: Muse of Nightmares
Author: Laini Taylor
Series: Strange the Dreamer #2
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published: October 2nd 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Rating: 4/5 stars ★★★★
“It’s the mind. It’s the most complex and astonishing thing there is, that there’s a world inside each of us that no one else can ever know or see or visit.”
Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.
She believed she knew every horror and was beyond surprise.
She was wrong.
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?
4 of 5 stars to Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
My review of Laini Taylor’s Muse of Nightmares ended up becoming a dissertation of her prowess as an author. I can’t not talk about her writing talent so please, if you’re planning to read this, brace yourself for a long-ass post.
Laini Taylor is a master story teller. One thing that stood out to me while reading Muse of Nightmares (and Strange the Dreamer for that matter) is the writing style. Laini weaves magic with her words that makes the story come alive. It’s a very rare talent. It’s true that reading both Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares have been an experience thanks to her. What makes her so good? This is what I found out.
She writes fascinatingly. From the beginning, the premise of the duology is nothing short of interesting. It’s what every childhood dream is made ofㅡfairies, gods, mythical creatures. Once in our lives, we imagined we were one. With only this as her weapon, she already got my attention. However, it’s not enough to have a good story. You actually have to tell it just as well, if not better. Most authors start with good ideas but often end up with a bad book because they fail at the execution. That’s where Laini is different. She aced the whole process. She had a good idea and made it even better. Every chapter of Muse of Nightmares (and Strange the Dreamer) is packed with dreamy scenes contrasted against sad realities. It’s a fantasy novel but lessons about life, character/morals, and even modern topics such as mental health are touched on.
She writes effectively. Young Adult romance are often awkward and forced. Some writers are just bad at building chemistry. Again, Laini is different. What would’ve normally been a lukewarm romantic connection between two leads in a YA Fantasy became passionate because Laini knows how to pack in the chemistry slowly and convincingly. Rarely do I ever read about teenage characters whose love story I felt so deeply. Sarai and Lazlo‘s romance is definitely one for the books.
Romance aside, Laini also knows how to put nuances to ALL her characters. By god, this woman put a bunch of second leads in both her stories that I’d expect she’d throw them to the side eventually but no, she actually made them grow/mature just as much as her leads. All her characters are multi-dimensional and I AM SO IMPRESSED because their character developments are simultaneous and consistent.
Let’s talk about Sparrow first. I’ve mentioned her in my review of Strange the Dreamer. Out of all the characters, she was the one I felt a connection with, mostly because she reminded me of my younger self. She fancied herself in love with Feral only to realize it was not but a brief “crush.” She felt useless in a battle because her powers were not meant to attack. In Muse of Nightmares, she addressed all that and improved herself. She longs for love like Sarai and Lazlo but it’s not so important anymore. She discovers more of her abilities and ends up becoming one of the most important characters that made an impact on the over-all outcome of their war/ordeal. She’s now my favorite character. Yes, my top favorite, even surpassing the leads Lazlo and Sarai. Sparrow in Muse of Nightmares is all about growthㅡpun not intended. I admire her quiet strength and resilience, her unassuming character, and a wisdom born of observation. She has initiative and would be a great leader or perhaps an adviser to Lazlo, if Lazlo is indeed their leader. Honestly, Laini ought to give her a separate book.
Moving on to Minya, the catatonic girl who is so easy to hate in the first book but of course, there is more to her story and Laini once again knocks this one right off the park. Minya is like an avenging angel. They mean good but their ways aren’t always right. She may have ticked me off at the start but now I have a certain fondness for her, much like a mother would have to a once estranged daughter. I feel the need to mention this one particular scene in the book that made me cry. It’s where Laini’s Minya-Sarai arc becomes full circle. Sarai was saying her farewell to Minya thinking that she would die soon and Minya still stubbornly refuses to believe it, angrily wiping her tears. It’s the total opposite of how they were in the beginning. You see, not so long ago, Minya was using Sarai’s ghost to make Lazlo follow her bidding and would always threaten him that she would let Sarai’s ghost free lest he defies her. It was so touching mostly because it was a reassurance that Minya wouldn’t actually follow through with her threats and the most important realization of all: Minya truly cares for them all.
Now let’s talk about Thyon, the golden boy from Zosma. He is the character with the most obvious changes because frankly, he had such a stinking high-handed personality at the start. However, he’s not completely unlikeable. This is where Laini’s expert application of nuances come in. Thyon was a battered sonㅡand that does not excuse his behaviorㅡbut it certainly made him sympathetic at least. You see now how Laini doesn’t put her characters in a neat little box? Anyway, unpopular opinion ahead, I didn’t really like how Laini paired him with this character, Ruza. How I wish it was with someone else more memorable. We barely even know Ruza and then suddenly a love connection is forming between him and Thyon, a rather important character. This is the only flaw in Laini’s otherwise impeccable characterizations. She should have made Ruza more prominent in the first book just like Calixte if she wanted this romance to actually feel real.
Last in my talk of “Effective writing. Re: characters,” is none other than our new antagonist Nova. Reading about her and Kora in the first chapter of the book definitely threw me off because the last scene in Strange the Dreamer was very cliffy and I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about that first and foremost. The chapter about her dampened the excitement but also added a new feeling: foreboding. The setting of Kora and Nova’s story is already despondent on its own so I know in the back of my mind, it could only get worse. I was right. Nova is another “Minya” type: avenging angel with good intentions but wrong ways. In a way, Nova and Minya are essentially the same character. Both have traumatic pasts they can’t seem to get out of and would eventually drive them crazy. The only difference is that Minya had friends who cared for her so she was saved while Nova had no one so she died. This is also where the mental health issue is subtly depicted. Friends, family and loved ones can help us through dark times like what happened to Minya but when we isolate ourselves or have no one to lean on during those times, we lose our way like Nova. This may also be Laini’s way of copping out a rather complicated problem of Minya vs Lazlo. The end of Strange the Dreamer seemed like there really was no way to resolve the issue without bloodshed and the other one dying. It’s the easy way out but who cares? I certainly prefer this version where all Sarai’s friends and loved ones are safe and alive.
Going back to my discussion of Laini’s writing skills, third and last factor that makes her so good is her pacing. She knows how to pace her story so that there is never a dull moment. Every chapter is told in an efficient manner; no fillers, no unnecessary drama. Every chapter always escalates so the reading experience only gets more exciting as you move along.
I bet after this long post you’re wondering, why the four stars? Well, I’ve already mentioned the reasons above (the Minya cop out via Nova, Ruza being a forgettable pairing for Thyon). Having said that, Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares is one heck of a series and definitely a favorite. I highly recommend it!
*moodboard photos not mine. credit to rightful owners.
*rose photo in Sparrow’s character poster credit to Irina Kostenich from Pexels
*Models in my character inspiration/posters: Daria Milky (Sarai), Roy Van Leeuwen (Lazlo Strange), Aleksandra Girskaya (Sparrow) and Lucky Blue Smith (Thyon)