Trigger warning for brief discussion of sexual assault and harassment
This book was…rather infuriating.
There, I said it. I am aware that this is entirely my fault. No, I should not have read this. Yes, I should have known better. Yes, I am an idiot and tried to read it anyway.
*sobs* Why am I so stupid, I honestly thought this book would be better than the first one and have better pacing and writing and stuff I’m a MORON
I honestly gave Thyon waay too much credit in my review of the previous book. Why did I fall for the classist jerk? He’s kind of a moron. Also, HE DIDN’T NEED TO STEAL LAZLO’S BOOKS. HE COULD HAVE ASKED FOR THE FREAKING PRIMARY SOURCES, WHICH PROBABLY WOULD HAVE BEEN EASIER TO SIFT THROUGH THAN SOME COLLEGE STUDENT’S DERANGED SCRIBBLINGS. Anyway, I was way too nice to h–
Strange, a god? Through all his musing, Thyon had not allowed those words to scrape against each other. “That’s absurd,” he said tightly.
Calixte agreed, though for a different reason. Thyon objected to the notion that Lazlo could be divine, powerful.
Oh. OH. I remember why I love him now. It also really doesn’t help that he’s the only character who gets called out for his bad behavior. The others, who sometimes do horrific things, do not. Yeah, it’s possible I wouldn’t have liked him in a better book, but I like him in comparison to the others. Okay. Yeah, we’re already getting off to a good start.
There were still a couple of things I liked. Eril-Fane was definitely the high point of this story. He’s a person who has suffered, but who is still going to step up and do the right thing, even if he doesn’t always know the right thing is. He’s such a brave person, and he should have been the main character. He was ten times more interesting than everyone else combined. There, I said it. He’s amazing. I do have a problem with his character arc, though, specifically in regards to how the arc handles trauma-induced fear of touching people. Why does fiction treat this like some deal-breaking thing in a relationship? I have a huge problem with Azareen saying that he’s not exactly her husband. HE LITERALLY KILLED A GOD FOR YOU, AZAREEN. I’M PRETTY SURE HE LOVES YOU. Sometimes your husband goes through horrible trauma and can’t touch you anymore, and you have to live with them and love them anyway. It happens. Aside from that, I’m pretty happy with Eril-Fane’s arc, though. That was an annoying note, but the rest of his arc was really good.
I thought the pacing in this book was better! That’s not saying much, though, considering the pacing of the first book, and there were still parts in this that dragged. But stuff happened, and the periods of time where stuff did not happen were not as common as before. I think the writing was also better; the placement of adjectives was more careful, and there weren’t nearly as many places where I had to slow down to try to figure out what the author was trying to say. In fact, there were scenes in this that really gripped me. I LOVED the scenes with Nova. Nova was amazing and also would have been a better contender for the role of main character than Lazlo Strange.
(In fact, I have a list of characters who would have made better main characters than Lazlo Strange. I’ll let you guess everyone on that list. I think I’ve made my opinions clear.)
Lazlo and Sarai, as in the previous book, were incredibly boring. It certainly didn’t change in this book. I don’t understand why on earth anyone would fall for someone just because he has nice dreams. I have nice dreams sometimes, Sarai. Are you going to make a value judgement on me based off of that? The foundation of their relationship is incredibly flimsy, so when Lazlo considers risking an entire city for her, it’s painful to watch. Especially since they’ve only known each other for what, three weeks? Also, don’t…Please don’t make out in the room where Sarai’s mother raped people for two hundred years. That’s like making out in fantasy Auschwitz.* It’s gross.
*Do note that I do not lightly compare things to Auschwitz. I just can’t think of another place with as bad a connotation as the room in the story would have in the setting.
And Thyon’s character arc. Oh my goodness. It kind of felt like…Like I guess if the author tried to make me a cake, but she didn’t know which kind of cake I liked, so then she made me a coconut cake and coconut cake makes me gag. So now I’m left with a cake I can’t eat and a feeling of vague discomfort.
Tell me if this sounds like a good idea, okay? Let’s take a character. He’ll be a rich aristocrat and the vehicle we use to talk about classism, xenophobia, and sexism. But wait! He’ll also be gay, mentally ill, and an abuse survivor! There’s no way this can go wrong!
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that cute romantic bickering should never, ever consist of Ruza telling Thyon, ‘Hey, last time we spoke you seemed vaguely xenophobic, and why are you cutting yourself, lol that’s so weird.’ It makes both Ruza and Thyon look terrible. The whole scene seems so ableist! It is bad, bad writing. Also? Also, if Ruza lists several very good reasons as to why he dislikes Thyon and follows it up with, ‘and he’s so pretty he doesn’t look real, what a loser,’* it’s not cute, okay? It gives off the impression that Ruza is only into Thyon for Thyon’s looks (which was the impression I was getting throughout the novel, tbh, because I can’t think why else Ruza would be into him). And I don’t actually care if you’re deriding someone for being too ugly or too pretty. Negative comments on someone’s personal appearance ain’t cute, Ruza. Don’t do it.
*All dialogue in this paragraph is paraphrased. Obviously.
(Also, allow me to say that if Ruza really loved Thyon, he would have gotten him gloves when they worked with rope. True love doesn’t bandage your hands after the fact. True love gets you gloves.)
Oh, and remember how I liked Calixte in the last book? Yeah, I don’t…Why on earth did she ask Thyon if he was a virgin and if he was gay? Actually, I know why. She did it in order to get under his skin. That’s scummy. It’s especially unforgivable to me since Thyon comes from a homophobic society. I just…don’t like how Calixte handled any of this, and she never had a moment where she sat down and realized that she might have been unkind. Ruza also never sat down and discussed Thyon cutting himself and apologized for not taking it more seriously. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if Thyon apologized for how he treated Ruza, either?? At least the narrative treated Thyon’s wrongdoings as horrible, though, and he had actual consequences. Ruza and Calixte never got even that.
Also, I just…do not remember any of Thyon’s alleged xenophobia from the previous book? It’s possible I just missed it. It was a long book and I tended to ignore out-of-character actions anyway. I don’t have a copy on hand, so I can’t check, but if it was not mentioned in the previous book, then just…Yeah. Okay. Racism is a wonderful trait to give a character last minute, especially right before you get him together with the brown character. And I certainly never noticed Thyon being weird to Ruza in this book (please correct me if I was an idiot and missed something), so…why was this in there? The only thing the ableism and racism do for the story is to make the romance uncomfortable and awkward. Both characters deserve better.
I also love how Sarai criticizes Thyon for having nightmares. He probably has nightmares because he has PTSD, Sarai. Why on earth would you…I don’t know anymore. I don’t know why someone would be like this. She’s seen the effects of PTSD before! She has no right to judge someone for having nightmares! I guess if the trauma isn’t caused by her parents, it doesn’t matter? I don’t know. It’s a bad book.
Yeah, I don’t…I don’t really like Sarai. Is she just mad at Thyon because he interrupted her makeout scene with Lazlo in the last book? That’s the only thing that makes sense. I love Thyon for that, by the way. He may be a problematic fave, but he’s my problematic fave who saved me from the terrible makeout session.
I HATED that Minya was given a redemption arc. She’s an abuser and a slaver. She gaslights Sarai, she took away Sarai’s medicine in the first book, and she threatens to kill Sarai for good. And she’s literally enslaved hundreds of people. This isn’t a character you redeem. There’s a reason why some villains are only redeemed in death, okay? The things they have done are so awful that the narrative CAN’T let them live. They can’t feasibly make their way back into society. Also, was it just me, or did the narrative extend more sympathy to her than to Thyon? You…You know, the mentally ill queer abuse survivor who has not enslaved anyone? It was…uncomfortable.
Ruby and Feral were AWFUL, as they were in the previous book. Ruby gets upset at Feral at one point for not spying on her in the bath without her consent. Ruby also spies on Feral without his consent and Feral claims to be…happy about it. That wasn’t creepy at all. (It was that point when I knew I was never DNFing this book. I was going to see this to the bitter end so I could scream my rage into the void that was the internet.) Ruby and Feral are…fifteen. Honestly, Ruby is so weird that I’d almost think that it’s intentionally set up to show that Ruby has no morals and has been raised by wolves, basically. That would have been fine. The problem is that people from the outside do not seem to view her general behavior as odd. That is a big problem.
Apart from the creepy consent issues (and that’s a pretty big thing to ignore), I just…don’t really want to read about a fifteen-year-old exploring her sexuality? I’m pretty sure most fifteen-year-olds don’t want to read that, either? Am I wrong?
Also, just something personal that bothered me: Why are a bunch of characters in what I assume is a vaguely pan-West Asian setting referencing purgatory? Isn’t that a very specifically Catholic concept?
As for the stuff I liked…Well, as mentioned, I loved Eril-Fane and Nova, and I thought the scenes we saw from Thyon’s point of view were interesting, even though I hated how some of the issues were handled. Honestly, some of Thyon’s thought patterns got me. The way his anxiety was portrayed was realistic, even though I didn’t like how the other characters reacted to it. I think I would have liked it a lot better if Thyon could have come to his own personal realizations away from the main friend group, both for his sake and for Ruza’s. I did think that the scenes where Thyon learned humility were really powerful, despite my issues with the arc. And there were moments where I got lost in the story! Some scenes, particularly the ones with Nova, were enthralling. Overall, though, I think a lot of this story could have been better thought through, and a lot of it could have been made more interesting. I get why other people like it. I just…couldn’t get behind it.
You know what infuriates me the most, though? When I first started Strange the Dreamer, I thought Lazlo/Thyon was going to be a thing. Thyon really was introduced like a love interest! But as I kept reading, it soon became clear that Lazlo/Thyon was not, in fact, going to be a thing. Essentially, I was cheated out of two Renaissance era gay scholars–an alchemist and a historian–teaming up to save an ancient city in the enemies-to-lovers romance of the century. I was CHEATED of that, and no, I am not over this. I will never be over this.
[Edit: My sister was reading aloud a Lazlo/Sarai makeout scene and laughing at it, and apparently…Sarai’s…hearts and veins…started glowing? Anyway, I leave you with this:
[Edit no. 2: Can I just say the way slavery was handled in this was HORRIBLE? Minya’s slaves were such an afterthought. Only three of Minya’s slaves were named. One had no lines, and the other two were villainized. Sarai briefly mentions that they really ought to free the slaves, and Lazlo hastens to reassure her that the slavery is not her fault. However, I never noticed her fighting very hard for the slaves’ freedom in either book, and she certainly wasn’t willing to sacrifice herself for them. I also notice that Nova, the woman who has freed many slaves, is villainized, while Sarai and her friends, who own slaves, are not. Essentially, what with Minya’s slavery and Ruby’s sexual assault*, both characters are doing the same thing their parents did while everyone else looks the other way. It is GROSS.
*For context, Ruby is described in the first book as forcing the slaves to kiss her and there’s this scene in the first book where she’s making out with her boyfriend and says something among the lines of “wow…his warm hands are so much better than the cold unwilling hands of the ghosts…” or whatever (I read that book when I was seventeen and I cannot remember if they were about to have sex or if they were just kissing, but the implications were still fucking weird either way. I’m pretty sure I thought they were about to have sex at the time, but I was seventeen and my reading comprehension was not great back then lmao). Anyway! That was creepy!]
Please do note that I do not blame the author for any of the stuff that bugged me. I don’t think anyone sets out to write a mentally ill queer character or a brown character with the intention of portraying them in an offensive or off-putting way (except for a few people, but let’s not go there). I don’t know the author personally, and it’s possible she’s a perfectly lovely person who just wrote something that annoyed me. It’s also certainly possible that some mentally ill queer people out there did enjoy the book! I just had problems with it, but my problems are with the book, not her.
I did get some fanfic out of this endeavour, because I did lowkey like the first book, so reading this duology wasn’t entirely pointless! Overall, though, it wasn’t really for me, and I should have known.
(As an addendum, since you could argue Eril-Fane is kind of a King Arthur figure–both characters are war heroes who killed children in an attempt to protect their kingdom, the comparison might be a stretch but whatever–can you IMAGINE how amazing Sarai would have been as a Mordred figure? I want Sarai who is an actual antiheroine instead of being ‘sympathetic’ and vaguely unpleasant. Minya does not count as a Mordred analogue btw, because for all Mordred’s flaws, he never enslaved anyone. Mordred is a good boy. Minya is not.)
Also, I am living in fear of the day the author announces that it was not, in fact, a duology and she’s writing a third book and then my stupid brain won’t let me leave the series unfinished, but hopefully that won’t happen (sorry, fans of this book)