Muse of Nightmares

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Strange the Dreamer. You can read my review of this [here].

Muse of Nightmares was written by Laini Taylor and first published in 2018. It forms the second part of the Strange the Dreamer duology, following Lazlo as he takes his place amongst the Godspawn. As the novel carries on directly from where Strange the Dreamer (2017) left off, I would recommend reading the novels in sequence if you want to fully appreciate them.

Both joy and tragedy stemmed from the destruction of the anchor. Lazlo has discovered his place in the world. He is one of the blue-skinned Godspawn, and a powerful one at that. His ability to control metal means that he can finally ascend into the citadel to be with others of his kind. But it came at a terrible price. Sarai has died and now exists as a ghost, able to take physical form only because Minya wills it. Problem is that this now means that Minya has a bargaining chip.

Minya has not forgotten the horrors that the people of Weep inflicted on the Mesarthim. She uses her control over Sarai in an attempt to blackmail Lazlo into taking her and her spectral army down into the city. Yet Lazlo knows that he can’t do it. Even if it risks Sarai, he can’t allow Minya to slaughter those that he has left behind. In secret, he and Sarai begin to search for another way. Perhaps if they can use Sarai’s power over dreams to cure Minya of her lust for vengeance, they can all be happy.

Yet something else is moving against the Godspawn. A long-lost warrior is travelling towards them, half-maddened by the endless search for her missing sister. This wanderer nurtures a burning hatred for the Mesarthim, particularly Lazlo’s long-dead father…

I haven’t had to caveat one of my reviews with this for a while but I do feel obliged to give a word of warning before I begin. While Muse of Nightmares is not overly graphic, please note that it does contain some scenes of a sexual nature. While most of these are consensual scenes between Sarai and Lazlo, it also contains a few instances of violence against women and rape. I certainly would not recommend it for young teens, or people who are sensitive to the depiction of such things.

Yet, this subject matter aside, Muse of Nightmares is a truly stunning novel. It is a showcase of Taylor’s ability to weave wonderous and believable fantasy worlds. While Strange the Dreamer introduced a beautiful, immersive world that was rich in its own history, Muse of Nightmares expanded this in ways that I could never have imagined. It delved deeply into the origins of the Mesarthim, fully explaining Skathis’s motivation and neatly connecting the series to Taylor’s wonderful Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy.

Muse of Nightmares also contains a number of nice themes, which helped to add a richness to the tale. It explores the concept of rehabilitation, taking the time to focus on the complexity of healing trauma. This is encapsulated by the suffering of Minya and Eril-Fane, two characters who were damaged by the same traumatic event. It is also a novel of female empowerment, focusing on the strength that it takes to function and carry on, even in the wake of abuse, death and loss.

However, the book certainly was not the sequel that I was expecting and I think that this fact may alienate some fans of Strange the Dreamer. The plot is filled with twists and turns, introducing new characters that hold a connection to the former Gods of Weep. While Muse of Nightmares did keep me constantly on edge, I was disappointed to find some of these twists to be a bit underwhelming. The fate of the Godspawn children, in particular, struck me as being incredibly mundane when it was finally revealed.

Yet, despite my gripes, I still found that I could not put the novel down. Taylor’s third person narrative is as beautiful as ever, skipping between the protagonists and giving glimpses into their worlds and dreams. While I did not find the story to be quite as exciting as Strange the Dreamer, it was certainly a lot more heartfelt. It gave itself over to a lot more conversation and introspection, allowing the characters to strengthen their relationships before building to an exciting, high-stakes finale.

The ending of the novel was deeply satisfying, neatly closing the duology but leaving plenty of room for the Godspawn to have further adventures in the future. I was also pleased by just how optimistic the ending was. While I won’t spoil too much for you here, I loved that the way that the protagonists were finally able to shed the stigma attached to their heritage and forge their own paths.

Yet the thing that I loved most of all about Muse of Nightmares was the characters. Although not all of them got the focus that I would have liked, they did all feel real. Every single character who lived in Weep or above it felt like a real person. They were complex entities that each had their own strengths, fears and weaknesses. There are no stock characters in this story, and therefore their actions were always hard to predict. No person was really written to any popular tropes – they evolved and learned as the story progressed.

Taylor certainly writes wonderful female characters. Sarai goes from strength to strength in this novel. Although I was worried that she would be neutered by the ending of Strange the Dreamer, she quickly learns to make the most of her condition and finds a new power in death. Yet it is Minya that truly steals the show. The change that she undergoes in Muse of Nightmares is quite incredible, giving herself time to confront the things that made her into a monster and becoming incredibly sympathetic.

The addition of Kora and Nova’s story also added depth to the world, allowing the reader to see the Mesarthim first hand (and in a less godly light). The strength of their bond is something that all sisters can relate to, rapidly adding a new layer to the tragedy of the massacre in the citadel. In fact, my only disappointment was that the protagonists of Strange the Dreamer faded into the background this time around. While Eril-Fane did get a measure of closure, Lazlo and Thyon had very little to do. It felt that their stories really ran their course in Strange the Dreamer, and so they had little to contribute this time around.

Anyhow, I think that covers everything. While Muse of Nightmares is not a book that I would recommend to everyone, I certainly enjoyed reading it. Although it contained some dark subject matter, the world building was beautiful and the characters were rich and multi-layered. I can’t wait to see what Taylor will write next.

Muse of Nightmares can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook & Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 4 | Arkham Reviews

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