Before you go thinking I’m insane and somehow raced through all 528 pages of Muse of Nightmares yesterday on release day, I should probably clarify that Blackwell’s delivered it early, on Saturday, and I raced through all 528 pages of it then, instead. You know, because that’s a normal thing to do. Obviously.
This is a difficult review to write because my feelings about Muse of Nightmares were very similar to my feelings about Strange the Dreamer the first time I read it, and thus I suspect that were I to reread it, I’d feel the same way I did when I reread Strange. Did that sentence make any sense at all? Possibly not. Sorry.
(By the way, just a warning: although this review is spoiler-free for Muse of Nightmares, it’ll probably contain some spoilers for Strange the Dreamer, being a sequel.)
My feelings the first time I read Strange the Dreamer went something like this: “This is beautifully written, and some sections of it I really loved, but there were other parts that I didn’t like as much and I guessed most of the twists in advance.”
My feelings the second time I read Strange the Dreamer: “ASDJKFL I NEED BOOK TWO RIGHT NOW, PLEASE HOLD ME, I’M CRYING ABOUT MINYA AND I WASN’T EXPECTING THIS MANY FEELINGS”.
You see the difference.
I think these are books that reward rereading, that’s the thing. They’re beautifully written, with lovely, poetic descriptions. I also don’t think they particularly thrive on surprise, because they’re not about sudden plot twists that catch you off-guard. While there are some plot twists, they’re clearly set up, and it’s more about the execution than the idea itself. So you know it’s coming, but you’re intrigued to see how it’s going to pan out, and whether your suspicions are correct.
This means that on the second reading, when you definitely know it’s coming, you can delight in the foreshadowing and enjoy the writing style, whereas on the first reading, you’re never sure whether you should be surprised or not, and that makes it… slightly less satisfying on a plot level, I think. Others may disagree.
The other thing that stops me yelling about these books from the rooftops is the romance elements. Don’t get me wrong, Lazlo and Sarai are very sweet together, and it’s that I don’t ship them — I’m just not that interesting in kissing, and when characters get obsessed with it, I tend to zone out.
(Plus, a fair bit of the terminology and descriptions in these books is very cis-centric and doesn’t leave a lot of room for any sort of gender variance, which… ehh. It’s common, but that doesn’t mean I like it. I know what an author means when they talk about a certain piece of anatomy setting a boy apart from a household of girls, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that, and it’s kind of uncomfortable for me.)
I missed Lazlo’s perspective a bit in this book. I loved him best when he was a librarian studying magic because that was something I could relate to, and I still wish that had been more than the setup for his later adventures. Please. Just give me magic nerds. I love them.
HOWEVER, this makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book. I did! I read the whole thing in an evening despite it being long — though to be honest, with both this and Strange, they don’t feel like they’re 500+ pages long. The style is quite flowery, so the pages just melt away.
Things I loved: MINYA. Minya is a wonderful character because she’s an antagonist, but not a villain. Even when she seems like one. And you get these hints of her perspective, these glimpses into her backstory (and in this book, they’re more than glimpses), that make you FEEL for this tiny, screwed-up little creature. I love her so much. Shes a character who has been twisted into something monstrous by love, even if she thinks it’s hate that made her what she is. I will never be over it.
Other things I loved: Thyon and some of the other faranji becoming friends. I love unlikely friendships, and the moments of banter between them were great. I also always had a soft spot for Thyon, ever since he first appeared in Strange, and he kept disappointing me by not being worthy of that soft spot. So I’m glad he managed to redeem himself somewhat and prove to me that I was right to secretly like him all along.
I liked that this friendship group also involved queer relationships, and Thyon’s attitude to those changing and developing as he abandoned a lot of the prejudices he’d brought with him. I think Thyon showed a lot of character development, though I sort of wish we got to see him hanging out with Lazlo more, because I feel they would’ve both thrived in that company now that Thyon has got over himself.
Plus, the writing is lovely, particularly the descriptions of dreams and nightmares. The worldbuilding is great. The alternate perspective that’s brought in is very clever, as it forces you to gradually join the dots to figure out how it connects to the present-day narrative. There is one element which is an effective surprise, if not a twist exactly, and it’s when you realise that what you thought would be the central conflict of the book actually isn’t, because there’s a whole other antagonist to face up to.
(But that conflict has the same themes and roots as the conflict you thought you were reading about, so it doesn’t come out of nowhere, either.)
And finally, as someone who has read and enjoyed Laini Taylor’s other books, I liked the hints that this exists in the same universe as the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. They were subtle, so it didn’t feel too “wink wink nudge nudge look how clever I am”, but they made me want to reread those books.
So yeah, I liked it a lot. But I didn’t exactly love it.
Maybe, as with Strange, that’ll come when I inevitably reread it.
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