Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

Though not really reflected in my earlier (rather superficial, in retrospect) review, I have had a whirlwind of emotions with this series. I wrote said prior review as one piece for both of the preceding novels, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight probably to avoid spoilers but also because I read them literally back-to-back: I finished Smoke and Bone and began Blood and Starlight with the same breath. As such, it became difficult to separate them for the purposes of thematic or ‘first impression’ review — which, it seems, is what I did, reading it over — but as time had gone by, I began to remember S&B more favorably, overall, than B&S. I have no desire to review those two over again, but for the sake of recapping how I felt when I began Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I’ll just mention that while I was excited to be reintroduced to Taylor’s worlds and characters via her stunning prose, I remembered feeling fatigued by the number of words and pages it took in B&S for Taylor to state, more or less, that supernatural wars are scary and dangerous and they tear lovers apart. I was concerned, therefore, about how long G&M would take to get to where it was going, and whether that narrative would be gripping along the way, or if it would lazily meander around several tangents before getting to the point. It sounds harsh to say it that way, because Taylor’s writing is so uniquely lovely and the tangents are so artfully drawn, so scenes that beautiful shouldn’t feel extraneous, but they just sometimes do.

So, with all of that said, how did G&M do? Well, I liked it better than B&S but not as much, still, as S&B. Which is to say, in some aspects, my concerns were justified. A new main character was introduced in G&M that, within the context of G&M, created an interesting secondary plotline; however, it seemed to me that her part in the conclusion could have been fulfilled using existing characters and mythology that was established in the first two books. Instead, this new character is given an arch that, in and of itself, could have been an interesting standalone novel, but in this context it comes across as an overly convoluted backstory that’s hastily introduced into what otherwise is the climax and resolution of the primary narrative. Her arch does tie into the overall conclusion, but as I said, the purpose she served could have probably been achieved through means that didn’t distract from the main story and take time away from other characters whose stories were never fully resolved. There was also a little bit of an infodump at the end that was full of really epic consequences, and it was played as utterly devastating, but the way that the information was delivered took a bit of punch out of the reveal. This, again, was something that, had it unraveled more slowly over the course of the novel, might have built up mystery and stakes, but instead passages featuring the key players were shuffled in and out sporadically and with a very tenuous connection to the main stage that remained tenuous up until said infodump.

Despite the inconsistent pace and loose threads, though, I was pretty satisfied with G&M. The prose was as beautiful as ever, and she continued to respect the journeys of each of her main characters, giving them each something to contribute and underlining the necessary support system that they are for each other. I also never felt at any point like the end was being broadcast, or like the the story was taking predictable turns. I also, overall, appreciated the way that Taylor chose to end the book. It wasn’t all rainbows and roses, but things were generally looking up. Additionally, despite outing myself as someone who doesn’t really buy into the ‘star-crossed lovers’ narrative a lot of the time, the way that Karou and Akiva’s story played out had me on board by the end and even had me wanting much more for them in a potentially un-YA way. (It doesn’t hurt that the way that Laini Taylor writes love and longing reads like it’s the most important and essential thing in the history of the universe, and I’m not poking fun by putting it that way: THE FEELS ARE REAL, is what I’m saying.)

Dreams of Gods and Monsters was, for me, a solid 4.5 stars. Based on some of the “technical” complaints, I’d give it four, but it’s such a satisfying end to a well-written, unique, and quality series that I concede the extra nudge. For bringing me back around after the dull Blood and Starlight alone, G&M gets a merit award. Overall, I highly recommend the series and look forward to more from Laini Taylor. In particular, I’m curious of what a more straightforward PNR would look like from her, since she’s so talented and writes longing, desire, and UST so well.

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