Muse of Nightmares is such a refreshing book.
Most YA fantasy novels I’ve read this year disappointed me. I love young adult fantasy, without it I wouldn’t be here writing reviews, but as a genre, it has a flaw: it’s very repetitive. I have read enough teen revolution books to last a lifetime, and yes I keep finding ones I enjoy, but sometimes, it’s great to read a YA book that does something different.
This is a story about the aftermath of a war, about healing, as a person and as a society. I can’t think of another book that follows these themes, and I am surprised by how subversive Muse of Nightmares is as a fantasy story exactly because of its refusal of violence. Everyone has been hurt, and it would be so easy to hurt more, but what I loved the most about this book was how it never took the easy way out.
Muse of Nightmares is the opposite of lazy writing and plotting.
It would have been so easy to paint certain characters – Minya, for example, or the Mesarthim as a whole – as villains and turning them into targets whose only function is to be slaughtered. This book doesn’t go there. But not only nothing is solved through violence in this story, there aren’t even any real living villains. Muse of Nightmares refuses to flatten its characters into stereotypes that often do not represent reality anyway. That’s not to say evil people just do not exist – Skathis and Isagol were very much evil – but most people are victims, most people are hurt.
By avoiding lazy simplifications, this book manages to say a lot of interesting things about trauma, recovery, community and forgiveness.
And that’s the main reason I do not mind its flaws.
Muse of Nightmares isn’t as good as Strange the Dreamer. It just doesn’t have the sense of wonder the first book has. It doesn’t feel as magical or mysterious, even though it is still beautiful and full of monsters. And that’s not to say there’s nothing new here – there are a lot of twists and revelations and all my questions were answered. But with this book, it became even more obvious that one of the main reasons this series works is that its main character, Lazlo Strange, is kind of flat. He can do no wrong, and that’s why this series is so unique and works so well – but that still doesn’t mean he is compelling. By refusing to flatten its antagonists into villains, this book ended up flattening its protagonists. Lazlo and Sarai – even though I find Sarai far more interesting than Lazlo – ended up feeling almost like sidekicks in their own story, surrounded by more complex characters like Minya, Eril-Fane and even Thyon, Ruby and Sparrow.
I still loved this book, but I think it is no coincidence that my favorite scenes were always the ones about Thyon. And that’s not only because he is discovering his sexuality or because in his scenes there’s Calixte, awesome lesbian and funniest character in the whole book. That’s because Thyon has a really meaningful and interesting character arc in so little space, which managed to be both believable and kind of adorable. Lazlo and Sarai? They love each other, they can do no wrong, they have very little development. I love them, but I skimmed most of their romantic scenes because they were boring.
As usual, Laini Taylor’s writing was gorgeous and so was the atmosphere, but I think that if you’re reading this review, you already know that. Anyway, I’m so glad I read this, I finally know what was going on with Korako and Weep’s name. This is a series I really recommend to everyone who is looking for some truly unique YA fantasy content.
(Warning: this book contains suicidal ideation and frequent references to past rape.)
My rating: ★★★★½