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4/5

Holy cow, Muse of Nightmares is an emotional rollercoaster of a story.  I finished it yesterday and I’m still reeling.

Picking up immediately after the events of Strange the Dreamer, Muse of Nightmares finds Lazlo at odds with the uncompromising Minya, with Sarai’s fate hanging in the balance.  As the godspawn struggle to meet a compromise, a new threat emerges, bent on a centuries-long quest and bloody vengeance.

With the groundwork laid by Strange the Dreamer, Muse of Nightmares has a lot of work cut out for it: mysteries to solve, rifts to bridge, and a second plot interwoven through the main story.  Fortunately, Laini Taylor paces the story well, fitting in small reprieves between the moral quandaries before ramping up the action in the final, explosive arc.  Throughout, Taylor maintains the dreamy tone of Strange the Dreamer, wielding both action and tranquility with a deft hand.

In addition to pacing and tone, Muse of Nightmares shines in its character development.  With most of the characters poisoned by hate or sorrow or guilt, it seems impossible that the wrongs between them could be righted, but the story isn’t trying to do that. Instead, Muse of Nightmares seeks to show that conflict can be overcome, even if its origins can’t be erased or forgiven.  It’s an important lesson you don’t often find in YA, which tends to deal in black-and-white good and evil.  The message of moving past ugliness is important because it illustrates a more complicated truth – that good and evil can be matters of perspective, and what seems like senseless vengeance from one point of view might be justice from another.  In today’s divisive climate, Muse of Nightmares provides a much-needed focus on empathy and a better future.

Another strength of Muse of Nightmares is the plot.  The second plot weaves cleanly into the first, fleshes out a big twist in the story, and solves a mystery from the first book.  The end doesn’t answer every question, but since the world of Strange the Dreamer appears to be connected to that of Taylor’s previous series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I have a feeling those questions will be answered eventually.  And when they are, I’ll be eager to read on – Taylor creates beautiful worlds full of magic, and the world of this series is no exception.

While the plot is tight, there were a few places that I wish had received more attention than others. Thyon Nero’s narrative was short, as if the function he was meant to fulfill in Strange the Dreamer wasn’t enough to make him a meaningful character in Muse of Nightmares.  Other characters – like Ruby, Feral, and Sparrow – got little page time and only served as occasional deux ex machinas.  Think of it like this:  for Thyon, the story was making friends.  For Ruby and Feral, the story was some kind of not-really-lovers’ spat. For Sparrow, the story was essentially doing nothing until the very end.  In Strange, we are introduced to a plethora of interesting characters with cool powers, but in Muse, their irrelevance makes them fade into the background.

(I should also mention that – while it is entirely a matter of opinion – I found the romance of Muse to be a little over-the-top.  Taylor writes beautifully, but the love scenes may make you roll your eyes if you’re averse to too much schmoop.  But most of that is out of the way early in the book, which then returns its focus to the plot.)

Aside from this, Muse of Nightmares is, like its predecessor, a beautiful story resplendent with magic and wonder.  Fans of fantasy, romance, and lyrical prose will find themselves captivated by the world of Lazlo Strange and Weep.  I, for one, can’t wait to see what corner of this wondrous universe Laini Taylor will explore next.

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