The Muse of Nightmares picks up right where Strange the Dreamer ended on a cliffhanger. The first few chapters have this frenetic energy that sucks you in and it’s great to be already invested in these characters. But, then there is the introduction of two new characters in a parallel narrative which was initially confusing and took time away from the main narrative. I started to settle into it a little when that storyline abruptly (seemingly) fizzled out. By the time the two storylines intersected in the final 150 pages, I was past caring.
Here is why:
The genre inexplicably shifts from fantasy to sci-fi, the pacing is completely off (pretty much nothing happens for 300 pages after the initial urgency), there is an almost non-existent plot, and it spends far too long on the now annoying romance between Lazlo and Sarai.
He was one of my favourite things about Strange the Dreamer and I was excited to see him discover more of his destiny and new powers, but all he does in this book is act horny and lovesick while showing none of the characteristics he had in the first book (plus there is like no learning curve on his powers which felt unrealistic). Same goes for Sarai who I also expected to have a much larger role since the book is named after her. But nope, all she wants is sexy time.
Apart from Thyon (who we see far too little of along with Ruza, Calixte and Tzara) and to an extent, Minya, none of the other characters who were interesting in the first with the promise of true development in the second show any tangible character growth and are relegated to mere plot conveniences.
When it’s a duology, you can’t suddenly go from micro to macro without resolving or sufficiently developing the micro. Or start introducing new elements that are going to significantly impact the story directly in the second book. Overarching motivations and players need to be established within the first book, in my opinion.
But it’s exactly how The Muse of Nightmares proceeds. Weep, with its fascinating but dark history and all the mysteries still left to mine, is suddenly discarded in favour of a more ambitious storyline involving multiverses that apparently links the author’s other series (which I haven’t read and now don’t really want to). In my opinion, this does this world and its people a major disservice, and this book, instead of getting its own story, one that it had more than earned after the first book, feels like a long-winded set-up for future stories.
Then, in the final 200 pages, things happen too fast; many don’t really make sense. The actions of the characters seem guided by the necessity of the writer than their general motivations. It all feels too engineered to evoke a reaction than anything organic (like bringing certain characters back to life?). I felt angry and cheated about it, as well as about super convenient deux ex machina scenarios and an ending that was too neatly tied-up.
Ultimately, for me, the questions posed in Strange the Dreamer were far more interesting than the answers info-dumped on the reader in The Muse of Nightmares. Where was the urgency or the stakes or the showdowns threatened in the first book? This book had none of it.
A word about the antagonists. I love conflicted and complicated characters as much as I love potential redemption arcs. Both Minya and Nora start out in this vein and the story is better for it, but the solutions to their redemption, their arcs, felt too easy, and also a bit of a cop out (in Minya’s case, particularly, when we find out the real reason for why she is the way she is). But then, in the absence of true villains, there needs to be an emotional hook or something to keep the story and the characters moving towards a common goal, share some sort of common purpose, which The Muse of Nightmares doesn’t have either.
Strange the Dreamer was slow at times but there was genuine forward momentum and it had its own contained story (though I did wonder even then what the endgame was). The language strayed into purple prose realm but had enough beautiful descriptions and imagery to balance it out. Here, it’s too overwritten, with a tendency towards over-elaboration (something I really hate because I don’t like being hit on the head, multiple times, by something that is already way too obvious) and randomly jumping between POVs during scenes which was confusing.
Disappointing is too meek a word for what I’m feeling after finishing this book. I’d rather have had some of the longer, more repetitive sections in Strange the Dreamer edited out to be replaced with the interesting parts of this book and have a standalone book that’s self-contained but satisfying and meaningful.
P.S. Don’t get me started on “The End (or is it?)”
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