Strange the Dreamer is the story Lazlo Strange, a boy orphaned by war and raised by dutiful but somewhat uncaring monks in the city of Zosma. He finds solace in his imagination, and in stories. And for Lazlo, one story stands out above all the rest: the story of Weep, the legendary unseen city across the vast desert called the Elmuthaleth. Caravans full of stories and marvelous treasures would entice the countries on this side of the Elmuthaleth. Adventurers would set out to attempt the dangerous dessert crossing, but none returned, as outsiders were forbidden in the Unseen City and put to death. But two hundred years ago, all the caravans stopped coming, and people began to forget about Weep. For Lazlo, it was the story of all stories, a mystery that captivated him so much it helped him earn his nickname "Strange the Dreamer," and just a little bit of ridicule among his eventual colleagues at the Great Library.
Until one day, a company of legendary warriors from the Unseen City rode into Zosma, and everything changes. Lazlo is given the chance to accompany the Tizarkane warriors and the scholars they've recruited to help them solve a mysterious problem in Weep. It's the adventure he's always dreamt of, and one that will give him more questions than answers.
Strange the Dreamer is a story that lives in the gray areas -- where good people do bad things, where centuries of oppression and torture breed hate and fear, and where sometimes there is no clear path forward. It's a story about hoping and striving for the best, but sometimes having to face the worst.
Clearly, I loved this book. It's a duology, and I can't wait for book number two! But, I realize fairy tale-esque fantasy isn't for everyone. But if that IS your jam (or you are open to trying it) here's an excerpt from the book that I think represents it really well:
All his life, time had been passing in the only way he knew time to pass: unrushed and unrushable, as sands running through an hourglass grain by grain. And if the hourglass had been real, then in the bottom and neck -- the past and present -- the sands of Lazlo's life would be as gray as his robes, as gray as his eyes, but the top -- the future -- would hold a brilliant storm of color: azure and cinnamon, blinding white and yellow gold and the shell pink of svytagor blood. So he hoped, so he dreamed: that, in the course of time, grain by grain, the gray would give way to the dream and the sands of his life would run bright.
Now the bird. The presence of magic. And something beyond the reach of understanding. An affinity, a resonance. It felt like...it felt like the turn of a page, and a story just beginning. There was the faintest glimmer of familiarity in it, as though he knew the story, but had forgotten it. And at that moment, for no reason he could put into words, the hourglass shattered. No more, the cool gray sift of days, the diligent waiting for the future to trickle forth. Lazlo's dream was spilled out into the air, the color and storm of it no longer a future to be reached, but a cyclone here and now. He didn't know what, but as surely as one feels the sting of shards when an hourglass tips off a shelf and smashes, he knew that something was happening.