(Goodreads summary here.)
If my reread thoughts didn’t make it clear enough, Strange the Dreamer is one of my favorite books ever. I love the magical whimsy that exudes from the pages, and Lazlo Strange has my heart and soul, largely because I feel like he is part of me.
I wanted so badly to love Muse of Nightmares as much as Strange. But I just don’t have it in me. I keep going back and forth between 4 and 4 ½ stars, and I wish I could give it that extra half star. And it breaks my heart a little bit that I can’t even do that.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved this book. I just don’t think there’s much that can surpass my love for Strange, even its sequel.
Caution: Pretty major spoilers for Strange the Dreamer below. I’ll do my best to keep the Muse spoilers to a minimum.
I’m going to start with the characters, because I think that they are really the core of this story. As I’ve said, Lazlo Strange is wonderful and amazing and the sweetest cinnamon roll who I want to protect at all costs. I am such a sucker for the innocent ones, and Lazlo is no exception. I was a little worried that Taylor would shift his character to match the power he comes into at the end of Strange, which would totally be justified for any character other than Lazlo. With the way he is characterized in the first book, any significant change in his character as a result of his power would be completely out of character. My fears, however, were unnecessary: Lazlo is still the same pure, genuine soul in Muse.
Then a new fear arose: what if he stays stagnant the whole series? While he may be amazing, Lazlo is not quite perfect. He’s pretty close, sure, but I always saw some flaws that make him realistic and interesting. And I wanted him to have some development, but I also didn’t want those flaws erased. It’s certainly a very fine line, but it was important to me that Lazlo didn’t become bland. And honestly? He kind of did. And I HATE that I feel that way. I think his flaws are addressed in the wrong ways or taken away entirely. It ended up just being a repetition of “Lazlo has this power that he doesn’t know what to do with and wants to save Sarai and all of Weep.” I love a good savior complex, but, in Muse, Lazlo lost some of the depth I saw in his character in Strange and became a little too savior-y for my taste.
Sarai, on the other hand, had some really remarkable development in Muse. I loved the way she grew and progressed in Strange and how that was expanded in Muse. She wants to do the right thing like Lazlo but has that little edge of selfish self-preservation that Lazlo kind of lacks that makes her more riveting. I think that the dichotomy between Strange Sarai and Muse Sarai really made the sequel for me. The fact that the one thing Sarai wants in Strange becomes the one thing that gets taken away at the beginning of Muse was a wonderfully compelling plot and character point for Taylor to capitalize on.
Minya was probably the biggest surprise to me. I think I expected her to have a redemption arc, just because of what I had read about Muse before I actually started it and because of what we hear about her in Strange. But I didn’t expect to see such a full, complete, and, most importantly, believable redemption arc. I find that good redemption arcs are so tricky to navigate, largely because you never truly know what to expect from a character you expect redemption from. You can want them to redeem themselves, but if that’s not who they are, you’re stuck without it. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure I wanted Minya to have a redemption arc. But as soon as it became clear that she was going to and why, I was totally on board with it, which was an impressive switch for Taylor to initiate in my head.
Plot-wise, there were quite a few things that felt a bit too scapegoat-y for my taste, the main two being Sparrow’s newfound ability and the convenient introduction of Nova as the “true” villain of the story. The first just felt to me like Taylor needed something to ensure a happy ending, which I can appreciate, but I also don’t think is entirely realistic, even in a fantasy book. The second is a bit cloudier, but the nuts and bolts of it, in my opinion, is that there needed to be some “big bad” to ignite Minya’s redemption. It makes sense from a storytelling perspective, but I think I would have liked Minya’s redemption even more if she had done it more willingly, because I think she would have. I know it seems like it should deviate from her character, but I actually don’t think it would have if done right. Instead of trying to navigate Minya’s redemption via the characters, Taylor used the plot, which is fair and valid, just not quite what I wanted to see.
I think my biggest thing about Muse versus Strange is just that the introduction to the world is what I love most about Strange. It seems totally unfair to base my opinions on that fact precisely because Muse is a sequel, but that magical newness of the world of Weep is what keeps drawing me back to Strange. I loved experiencing the beginning of that story all over again when I reread it, so there was really very little Muse could do to match that. There’s a novelty in reading about a new place that sometimes, regardless of how much you love it, just gets lost when you return to it. And it freaking sucks to feel that way, but, hey, that’s just how it is at times.
And Taylor did her best to expand the world. I’ll give her major credit for that, but I just don’t think it did enough for me. A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that it was already pretty obvious in Strange that the world had some sort of overlap with the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (which, unpopular opnion, I really didn’t like by the end). I’m totally fine with little Easter eggs about previous books and overlapping worlds. I think I draw the line when it feels like the author is coercing you to read their other series in doing so (*cough SJM cough*). And it felt a little like that was what Taylor was doing. I think if she had just left it at the Easter eggs rather than explicitly specifying that there are converging storylines between Strange and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I wouldn’t have this complaint. But it became more than that, and it would be hypocritical of me to let Taylor off the hook while criticizing Maas for essentially doing the same thing.
Long story short: I was a wee bit disappointed in Muse of Nightmares. A lot of it is probably because I had such high expectations because of how much I love Strange the Dreamer. But some of it definitely has to do with the fact that it very much felt like a sequel, and some of my favorite elements got a bit lost in trying to move the story forward. Still, I really did love Muse, just not as much as I would have liked to or thought I would.
Have you read Muse of Nightmares? How do you think it compares to Strange the Dreamer? What other sequels just didn’t quite meet your expectations?