[The mind] is the most complex and astonishing thing there is, that there’s a world inside each of us that no one else can ever know or see or visit – Laini Taylor.
What is a monster? What is a hero? The lines do not blur in most fairy tales, but in this story of magic, metal and Godspawn, they do. We have monsters disguised as little girls, when in reality are they really monsters at all, for protecting their family throughout the years of isolation and unease. We have ghosts who cluck and share their affections with the orphaned children, a vacant look in their eyes. We have selfish men who want glory and fame, but, for what? We have the muse of nightmares – a face who fills horror into every sleeping human, who wants to be loved and share her gift for good. Muse of Nightmares is full of characters with complex personalities, clashing feelings and their own truth that they have had to fulfil throughout their life, whether that is through the bone-crushing realisations that their worlds have been torn apart, or a sheer determination to make their world better.
Muse of Nightmares is the conclusion to the Strange the Dreamer duology. It picks up right where the final pages of the first book ended in a dizzying halt; right where Sarai is in the clutches of Minya’s power, and the horrifying realisation that if Lazlo and she don’t do what this terrifying little girl tells them, they will be lost from each other forever. And this is where we think the evil of the book stems from: the ultimate baddy. Minya has an army of ghosts in her hands, that she can force to do her bidding, no matter the cost. They carry knives and mallets and a dead look in their eyes. She holds on to Sarai’s soul, but she can easily let her evanescence into the abyss. She holds all of the power; this little girl who has never aged since the bloody massacre in the nursery fifteen years ago where she saved four blue children from the clutches of death.
There are more villains in this story, which is the story after many other stories have had their beginnings and endings. There are stories that began in the past which are inextricably intertwined within this one. The Godspawn see Eril-Fane as their foe: the Godslayer who killed all of the babies in the nursery. His people see him as a hero, one who saved their kind from ever disappearing for a year of their life again. Eril-Fane sees Skathis and Isagol as terrors of the night, the kind of gods that keep the children from his land too scared to go into the street and play. There is another villain – Nova – who has her own story to tell, and it was the story I was most intrigued with.
The chapters flit between past and present, between worlds and between characters that are the heroes of their own story. Muse of Nightmares simply brings them all together and lets the magic of the worlds dictate what creates a hero and what creates a villain, or, more importantly, a survivor. Nova’s story begins two centuries before Lazlo’s and Sarai’s. She lives in a world where the sea has hungry sharks in its shallows and the young girls are sold to the man who pays their fathers the most gold coins. She has a sister, who’s face she recognises more than her own. Kora and Nova become one: always together, never apart. Kora is the one thing Nova loves in her wretched world and she would to anything to protect her. It is a running theme in Muse of Nightmares – protecting their loved ones, putting themselves before their own safety, however misguided. It is what makes me cherish the characters so much: every single one of them… apart from Skathis and Isagol. They are evil, plain and simple.
The pace of the book is very much like Strange the Dreamer. It plods along for the first half. I had the same issue with Muse of Nightmares: there was so much beauty and magic in the words and descriptions that I felt like there wasn’t as much action to counteract the landscapes and the worlds that I was in awe of. I found myself reading one chapter and putting it down to do something else. It is only in the final third of the book that I felt as though I couldn’t put it down. Everything was rushing to a huge climax. Heroes were becoming villains and vice-versa. Tragedy overflowed and hope was vanquished… nearly. War outcries were screamed and people faced their truths. It almost happened too quickly.
The constant flow was the poetic prose that Laini Taylor excels at. Her books read like an elongated poem: intricate, repetitive, beautiful and enthralling. It makes you believe that this world she describes is out there. If we look close enough in the sky, there should be a glimmer that can be pulled apart to reveal a doorway into a new dimension, full of gods and humans who have flying vehicles and riches beyond our own. The language she uses makes me feel like I’m in a fantastical dream, like Lazlo Strange and his stunning imagination that concocts the greatest dreams Sarai has ever known. So, even though the words outweigh the plot, Muse of Nightmares is beautiful enough to withstand any young adult critic.
What did you think of the series? I want to know what happens next, and I certainly hope the characters’ dreams come true.
Love, Faye xo