Book Review: “Muse of Nightmares” by Laini Taylor

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Laini Taylor’s style is addictive; she builds her world with finesse and love, and dazzling colour. Her characters are warm, menacing, complex, dangerous, beautiful and capable of wonderful – or terrible – things.

She floated in the air before them, eyes glowing red, flames blooming in her hands, wearing mesarthium armor and wielding lightning like spears, and the godspawn and humans were humbled and appalled.

Muse of Nightmares, Laini Taylor, p336

Hodder & Stoughton (9781444788952)

Muse of Nightmares is the sequel to Strange the Dreamer, which I read last year and neglected to review. Sometimes it’s difficult to think critically about a book you’ve just read, because you feel bereft when it’s suddenly over. That’s how I felt when I finished Strange the Dreamer a year ago, and how I felt last night, when I closed the cover of Muse of Nightmares. Bereft is the word. Hyperbolic, it may be, but we, my friends, are Book People, so I hope, between us, I will not be judged.

In many ways, Strange the Dreamer is a fairytale. A young man, an orphan, with nothing to his name but a dream of greater things. A young woman, made to feel worthless despite her wondrous potential, trapped in a tower, dreaming of escape. Those same young people, against all the odds, unlock each other’s destinies. But this is a fairytale smuggled inside a fantasy, so think big.

Muse of Nightmares, like Strange the Dreamer, is a fluent, acrobatic, magical silk sleigh ride through the world of Zeru. Zeru is the world of Lazlo Strange, and the blue-skinned orphans of the terrible blue-skinned gods, who left a city without a name, and a tragic legacy of murder and mystery.

The characters all have the unmistakable stamp of Laini Taylor. They are in turns warm and funny, desperately in love, in exquisite pain, hopeful and distraught. Taylor has the ability to convey emotion effortlessly and without hyperbole or falsity, no matter how intense. Her characters and her world envelop you in a warm blanket, and leaves you wishing for a duvet day that would never end.

Taylor’s storytelling is so effortless, full of wonderful imagery and dialogue, that you can flick to almost any page and find something worth reading aloud. But she also achieves perfect clarity continuously, and that is the best compliment I could give.

She gave the words back to him, murmuring, and kept them, too. You could do that: Give them back and keep them. “I love you” is generous that way.

ibid, p166

The first book in the series sets up many questions that the second endeavours to answer. Muse of Nightmares seeks to not only conclude the epic story of the first book, but to develop the universe, introduce a new collection of characters and tie up all the loose ends – a daunting task. I am not convinced this undertaking was necessary. Why not expand into another book, when there is so much to be told?

Some character arcs were rushed and some scintillating subplots deserved more attention than they received. My favourite arc in Muse of Nightmares revolves around two sisters, Nova and Kora, and the spectral eagle known as Wraith that features in book one. To avoid spoilers, I will just say that this subplot added a whole new dimension to Taylor’s universe, and I wanted more!

I have not read any of Taylor’s previous titles, but she leaves some tidy Easter eggs within Muse of Nightmares, suggesting that her universe is connected in more ways than is evident in Lazlo’s story alone. We are left with the tantalising notion of “The End. (Or is it?)”, but the way things wrap up at the end of this novel, one could be forgiven for thinking there might not be a next. Nevertheless, I live in hope.


Title: Muse of Nightmares
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 9781444789034
Format: Hardback

Paperback to be published April 2019 (9781444789065)


“Smoke” by Dan Vyleta – Book Review

Smoke

Dan Vyleta

smoke dan vyleta5-stars

 

For the fourth time this year, I have found my new favourite book.

A gripping story, complex characters and a world rich with ideas.

What would a world be like where all your sins are laid bare and you are judged by the smoking gun you carry within you everywhere? Judged for sins you have not committed, for desires you never act on. A world in which even an impure thought is betrayed by your own body, seeping from your pores, staining your clothes with Soot and infecting those around you in a Smoke of your own making. A world where teenage boys fear retribution if their sheets are stained with Soot in the morning because of what they dreamt the night before? In “Smoke”, this is the reality for Dan Vyleta’s characters. Like our sweat glands responding to fear, anger or excitement, so do his characters produce Smoke.

His world is wreathed in the so-called Smoke: the physical manifestation of sin. But if one Smokes when one feels love, lust, pain, is it really as simple as that?

Vyleta’s is a world that could have been. He takes Victorian London, bathed in a different kind of smoke than existed in the Industrial Revolution of our familiar history. A symptom of change and development is transformed into a cause of social and political stagnation in the novel. Everyone believes that Smoke is caused by sin, and that belief breeds fear and separation. The elites of society are the clean ones; taught control from a young age, they appear smokeless. The city of London, on the other hand, filled with common people and common dirty desires, is a well of sin, of Smoke. The gentry therefore appear pure and reasonable, while the commoners are dirty and sinful. But underground, in the mines and the sewers, there are those who speak of revolution.

It is a simple and elegant metaphor which Vyleta extends into a complete landscape, so familiar and yet so altered by this one change. Moral systems warped but still recognisable as our own; a fantasy that rings with truth and is therefore all the more unsettling.

“Power … is underwritten by morality. Those who rule, rule because they are better people than their subjects. It’s written on our linen. It cannot be denied.”

The novel is written in the present tense which I really enjoyed, bringing urgency and reality to the narrative. Vyleta also uses an ensemble style of narration, periodically inhabiting different characters. It’s a great way of not only building tension and helping to the move the story from a variety of different directions, but also ensures the reader gets a full understanding of the world Vyleta has created. He covers all the social strata, reinforcing the significance of the moral function of Smoke as it transfers to the social and political landscape. A miner’s wife, a headmaster, a noblewoman, a drunk priest, a righteous revolutionary, a butler, a teenage girl, a murderous schoolboy.

Dan Vyleta must be a man with an amazing ability to empathise with all kinds of people. He completely embraces the complexity of his characters with an honesty that is acutely felt, existing as they do in a world of moral confusion. What is most striking is the ease with which Vyleta slips into each body. At times, he conveys concise and acute spasms of emotion that sound with absolute clarity. Emotions that are meaty and guttural, but also tender, embarrassing and secret. He embraces the humanity of emotions we are ourselves ashamed of and removes that shame by putting them into simple, unapologetic terms. And that is perhaps the blessing that follows the curse of Smoke. It confronts us with our own intentions and asks us to reckon them, but also to share them and find solace in each other.

“Smoke”, besides being a wonderful read, is a book that raises questions. It highlights truths about the society we live in today and about the social landscape we have fashioned from the roots of our moral beliefs. It also highlights the fragility of those beliefs, warning against damaging absolutism; looking for the greys, not just black and white.

One of my favourite things about the book is the fact that it leaves the reader with a lot of questions unanswered. I like this aspect because it stays true to the book’s themes:  questions of morality have no easy answers. This novel is a great example of leaving the reader wanting more without infuriating the reader with an abundance of loose ends. I can enjoy the invite to speculate. It also means that Vyleta has completely avoided being preachy in spite of his moral subject matter.

Vyleta achieves the ultimate: makes his reader think and imagine in equal measure. And we are made to think not by force of opinion or clunking pointed dialogue, but by favour of the narrative that wills itself into existence within the minds of its creators. As Vyleta says in his afterword to the novel:

“to the reader belongs that greatest act of creation where stories are concerned, the transformation of words and sentences into tentative meaning, forever on the move.”

Review: “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss

5-stars

name of the wind

I have found my new fantasy series. “The Name of the Wind” is the first in “The Kingkiller Chronicle” series by Patrick Rothfuss.

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.”

I haven’t had a good fantasy series to get addicted to since I was reading Anthony Horowitz as a teenager. “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss is surely a fantasy for adults. The most sophisticated of its kind I have come across. The language is rich and beautiful and the world Patrick Rothfuss has lent himself to flourishes under his care.

Any book preceded by a fictional map already has my attention. Why? Because it is an indicator of how rich this fictional world is; of how much thought has gone into its construction.  There is a sense of careful management that dictates the movement of the narrative as well as the development of characters.

At 662 pages, it isn’t a paperback that you can snugly fit into your handbag. The creased spine and dog-eared corners of my copy – an upsetting thing for any booklover – is proof of my need to make it fit into my handbag and carry it everywhere until I had finished. Its length might sound intimidating, but the lyricism and storytelling carried me through hundreds of pages without even noticing.

If I were to criticise this book, it would be to say that occasionally the language is so rich with imagery that it is slightly treacly. My other minor criticism is that the majority of the book consists of our protagonist, Kvothe, telling his past life story, neglecting the present of the story. And when I passed the 600th page, I realised that the story had barely progressed at all.

BUT, having said all this, I do not care. My criticisms fade into insignificance. I hope “The Name of the Wind” will be the extended preface to a long series of novels that will continue to capture my imagination for years to come.