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Titles similar to Muse of Nightmares
Near the end of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, the revival of which just closed on Broadway, Prior Walter, a man living with AIDS near the turn of the millennium, confronts a literal angel about his own refusal to die. “Death usually has to take life away,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s just the animal. I don’t know if it’s not braver to die, but I recognize the habit; the addiction to being alive. So we live past hope.”
Angels in America features a strange overlap of harsh reality and blistering fantasy: during the height of the AIDS crisis, a man is visited by, and eventually visits, a near-unbelievable angel. It’s a six-hour production that seems like it may be difficult for audiences to grasp, but it first opened in 1993 to critical acclaim (part one, Millennium Approaches, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama) and the current incarnation claimed a Tony for best revival.
Laini Taylor is no stranger to awards herself—or, for that matter, to angels. Her high-fantasy epic Strange the Dreamer (2017) was a 2018 Printz Honor Book, despite the fact that this kind of genre fiction is often overlooked during awards seasons. Like Kushner, Taylor seems to have tapped into something that people—people in America especially—desperately need to hear. And, as in Angels, that thing seems to be hope
In Muse of Nightmares, Taylor completes the story she began in Strange the Dreamer. When last we saw them, her characters were in the direst of straits: Lazlo Strange, orphaned librarian, has discovered he has powers he knew nothing about and a history that may turn his newfound friends against him; Sarai, the daughter of a goddess, has died and become a ghost; and Minya, whose dark magic and single-minded focus has kept her in the body of a child for almost 20 years, turns a vengeful eye toward the city of Weep, which wants only to be freed from its painful past. As gods and humans struggle to come together, a tale of two sisters somehow connected to Weep and its war begins to unravel, and they may chart the course of its entire future.
It’s a sequel that often feels boundless. Taylor travels far into the history of Weep and of the beings that once conquered it. It is not a kind history: its legacy is that of power-hungry men who see themselves as gods, of children held in cages and used as pawns. Taylor could not have known, at the time of writing, how chillingly relevant to our own world this scenario would become.
When the world grows dark, it seems that many people question the importance of fantasy writing. For those who view it as mere escapism, that’s all it is—a nice break from the harsh reality of things, but ultimately unimportant or unproductive. But whether it’s Angels in America or Strange the Dreamer, fantasy, in all its many forms, does much more than that.
In her Printz Honor acceptance speech, Taylor discussed the importance of fantasy, now more than ever. “Human decency depends on empathy,” she said. “Empathy depends on imagination.” And what fantasy gives readers, especially young ones, is the ability to imagine worlds that can be remade. They can look at a community that mirrors our own and imagine it changed, and only by imagining it changed can we hope to change it.
In Muse of Nightmares, the world changes in dramatic ways, but also in small ones: as she plumbs the darkness of humanity, as her characters make earth-shattering and life-changing choices, Taylor also keeps her finger on the pulse of ordinary magic. Scenes of everyday life, love, and friendship are woven into the drama, and they are no less important for their lack of world-altering consequences. It is here, perhaps, that Taylor shines the brightest: she’s always been a wordsmith, and this book is no exception, but the attention she pays to the people who aren’t the heroes, the care given to ordinary life and its immense importance, elevates this from an entertaining epic to a deeply necessary, sometimes devastatingly so, work of art.
For readers, this is the message that matters. This is the gift that fantasy gives (and Taylor gives it better than most): even in dark times, especially in dark times, life matters. We hand these books to readers, young readers especially, not only so they know that monsters can be fought, but so that they can look at a monstrous world and see that hope exists alongside the darkness.
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