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Muse of Nightmares: Strange the Dreamer, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Muse of Nightmares: Strange the Dreamer, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Absorbing fantasy reckons with trauma's awful impact.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Mythology here shows vengeful, powerful gods, not unlike some stories of Greek, Nordic gods. Readers can explore human-god relations in various traditions, compare them to what they see here. Explores some psychology of trauma and how it can trap its victims in the past.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about overcoming trauma and loss, letting go of hate to find peace. Shines a light on a very difficult topic: long-term effects of sexual violence not only to those who suffer it directly, but also to generations of a family.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sarai must change from the Muse of Nightmares to someone who helps others in dreams. At first she feels helpless but struggles to understand those suffering, ways to comfort them. She chooses understanding even when subjects have murderous intent and helps prevent bloodshed. Thyon sheds his conceit and aloofness, finally begins to make connections with others, especially a man he realizes he may have a romantic interest in.

Violence

Trauma over past rapes, murders dominates story, leads two characters to vengeful violence. They attempt to destroy whole towns and teams of soldiers with army of ghosts and magical powers. Two characters impaled over and over again in one bloody scene. Characters imprisoned, nearly choked to death; two others drowned; a character jumps to death out of grief. A woman remembers being hit, verbally abused by stepmother and then sold by her father to an old man when she was a teen. Less than two decades before Strange the Dreamer begins, girls just old enough to menstruate were taken from their homes, raped, forced have children, and sent home again, minds wiped of memories. Much talk of those children taken and sold. A character remembers adults murdered and babies slaughtered in a nursery over and over again in dreams. Another walks through her dreams remembering all those she killed by seeing victims under a frozen ocean.

Sex

Main characters sleep together naked, with talk of touching breasts and connecting more intimately in dreams. Older characters have sex, not described. A joke about oral sex.

Language

"Damn" only.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some wine with a meal. Someone smokes a pipe.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Muse of Nightmares is the sequel to the absorbing best-selling fantasy Strange the Dreamer. As with the first book, this mature story is best for high school readers ready for difficult subject matter. Trauma over past rapes and murders dominates Muse of Nightmares, and some characters are so overcome with trauma that they seek out vengeful violence. They attempt to destroy whole towns and teams of soldiers with an army of ghosts and magical powers. One bloody scene shows two characters impaled over and over again. Characters are imprisoned and nearly choked to death, two others are drowned, and a character jumps to death out of grief. A woman remembers being hit and verbally abused by her stepmother and then sold by her father to an old man when she was just a teen. Readers of Strange the Dreamer already know that, less than two decades before that story began, girls had been taken from their homes, raped, forced have children, and then sent home again with their minds wiped of their memories. They also know about the babies murdered in the nursery. One character relives this scene over and over again in her nightmares. Sexual content is also mature: Main characters share beds naked, with descriptions of touching and talk of doing more intimate things in dreams. Older characters have sex, but it's not described. The main character, Sarai, tries to help characters grapple with their trauma. She finds there is no easy path back to a sense of peace.

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What's the story?

In MUSE OF NIGHTMARES, Lazlo is relieved that Sarai can remain in the citadel as a ghost, until he realizes that Minya can control her. Minya, the girl who saved Sarai and three more "godspawn" from slaughter 15 years before, has a vendetta against the man they call the "godslayer," Eril-Fane, and the whole town of Weep. She plans to force Lazlo to fly her and her army of ghosts there and will allow Sarai to evanesce if he doesn't comply. In a last, desperate attempt to save Weep, Minya is drugged and falls into a restless sleep. Sarai, Muse of Nightmares, follows her into her dreams hoping to get through to Minya. It's a place where Minya and Sarai relive the day of the slaughter over and over. It's both horrible and confusing. As Sarai tries to help her push through her trauma, she finds Minya has been keeping secrets for years about that day.

Is it any good?

There's a lot to love in this absorbing page-turner, but the three fierce women at its center drive this sequel to a deep place where they reckon with trauma and healing. And if that's too heavy for you, there's also the tender romance between a god and a ghost, a shape-shifting airship, alternate worlds, and more mythology and mysteries.

But back to the fierce women. Only one, Sarai, Muse of Nightmares, is easy to root for. She gave up her scary profession when she met Lazlo. Minya and Nova take work to root for. Author Laini Taylor puts in this work, showing their vulnerabilities, suffering, and fears. Then their nearly all-consuming drive for revenge makes sense, and adds so much unsettling tension to the story. Minya and Nova may annihilate everyone in their path to get the vengeance they seek. And Sarai and her dreams are the only weapons to stop them. Muse of Nightmares is ambitious and cerebral, and so worth the dreamy trip.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the disturbing content in Muse of Nightmares. How do characters cope with sexual violence in their past? Is it tough to read about, or a little easier because it's a fantasy novel?

  • What do Minya and Nova have in common? Both are strong adversarial forces in the story -- not quite villains, but it's complicated. How many books do you read where women have this role?

  • The story wraps up in two books here, but there are other worlds that could be explored. Would you be in for a spin-off series? Who do you think should have a starring role?

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