Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Laini Taylor

The final installment of a series is a trap. The writer is pursuing a set of goals which, though they are not fundamentally incompatible with each other, would probably not receive much encouragement from the OK Cupid algorithm to send each other a flirty message. The stakes have to be high but can’t be stakes the characters have already faced and overcome in previous books; the resolution has to be victory but can’t be too deus ex machina; and the characters have to end on a note that acknowledges everything they have been through but also feels conclusive and not too unbearably depressing.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the conclusion of Laini Taylor’s Nouns of Atmospheric Nouns trilogy, knocks it out of the park on all of these fronts.

(See also: Monsters of Men. Oh my heart.)

This is not a CBS procedural. Laini Taylor does not care about bringing newbies up to date. If — like me — you’ve let some time elapse since reading Days of Blood and Starlight, the first couple of chapters of Dreams of Gods and Monsters may feel dense and confusing. The angel hordes have just invaded Earth when the book begins (that was the cliffhanger from the last one). Karou and Akiva are gathering their allies together to try to sort out a counterattack, though they are woefully outnumbered and can’t hold out any real hope that their side will triumph.

A girl called Eliza watches the invasion and holds a secret close to her heart. “People with destinies shouldn’t make plans,” says her mother’s voice in her head. People with secrets shouldn’t make enemies, she reminds herself.

You also should not forget that the Stelians — who cameoed in the last book to bop the angel emperor on the nose and peace out without leaving a trace — could show up at any time and kill everyone with their brains. That is an important thing to keep in mind.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters is a surprisingly merciful close to the trilogy, in that Taylor never forgets that her characters are defined by their hope: that Karou and Akiva (and Zuzana, and Mik, and Ziri) have always been people who dreamed of something better for themselves and their world. In a key exchange early on, Karou says wearily, “Warriors make our plans,” and Issa responds, “And if an artist were to make our plans?” It’s this — an artist trying to make her plans based on a version of the world she can bear to live in — that’s always kept the series from falling too far into darkness. Taylor recognizes the weight of war and loss and killing, but doesn’t sink her characters under that weight.

Eliza’s a terrific addition to the series, though there isn’t enough space for her to receive her due as a character. She’s a woman plagued by bad dreams and running from her past as the child prophet of a cult that believes it’s descended from angels. Though Eliza has left that world behind her, it catches up with her now that the earth has been invaded by angels, disrupting her work as a lab assistant and flashing memories into her head like (I love the image Taylor uses here) tarot cards turning over to gradually reveal her destiny. I’d have loved to see more of her and her past and her struggles.

Akiva and Karou are whatever. I was never interested in them as a couple. Happily, the nascent love triangle from the second book doesn’t really stick around, and there isn’t too much wishy-washy dilly-dallying about Oh I love you but our love is too dangerous, which would have annoyed me greatly.

For my one nitpick, I have selected editing. Laini Taylor’s a good writer, but Dreams of Gods and Monsters could have used a sterner editor. During tense moments, Laini Taylor is prone to taking a time-out from the action to think lots of sad thoughts about what the possible outcome of these tense moments will be. This is okay in moderation, but it happens a lot, and sometimes the tense moment resolves itself very quickly, which made me feel that Karou was wasting my time with all that internal wailing about the Death of All Hope.

And a word about polysyndeton: As with all rhetorical devices, I love it; I cherish it; I strongly advise against overuse. There’s only so much The sky was blood and death and toil that a girl can take before she starts yearning for the frank, manly syntax of Julius Caesar.

Apart from that nitpick, Dreams of Gods and Monsters is a stellar conclusion to a really fun YA trilogy. If you were holding off on reading the series until all the books came out, I now pronounce it safe to speed through them without fear of an unsatisfying payoff.

 

British cover
British cover
American cover
American cover

Cover report: Ah, tough call. I liked the notion of the American covers as a set, but the execution of this one doesn’t grab me. British cover wins.

  • I got this from the library, but alas, abandoned it almost immediately on account of it NOT being a CBS procedural, because I realized right away I would have to do rereading (which I already had to do when I read the second book) and it was just too much for me. But I do wish I had just exercised some self-control and waited till the whole thing was out…. But the way you talk about the conclusion, throwing in a mention of Monsters of Men, makes me think that at least I have to go back to it and make a Reading the End pass at it….

    • Gin Jenny

      To be clear, it’s not as good as Monsters of Men. Monsters of Men made me cry cry cry. But I think it’s successful in the same way Monsters of Men was at dealing fairly with the sad things that had happened so far, while also allowing the possibility of a merciful and hopeful future.

  • Amy

    I do love when a series is complete for me to read all with abandon. And, it does look like an interesting series. Maybe it needs to go on the list. I need to stock up for summer vacation reading.

    • Gin Jenny

      I think the series would be very fun vacation reading! Good for a weekend at the beach!

  • The lack of recap got to me a bit. Just give me a few hints as to who these people are!

    I thought it was a pretty good book overall. I really appreciated that Taylor allowed us to see how terrible war was but still let us and the characters keep a bit of hope alive. It was a good mix.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yep, i agree. I could have used a little more explanation — in particular, I had no memory at all of the White Wolf’s close underlings and who they all were.

  • I’m looking forward to reading this and was kind of afraid your second paragraph would go “so it’s not surprising this book fails on one or more counts.”

    (I’m with you on the couple stuff and I’m glad to hear there’s less love triangle.)

    • Gin Jenny

      Really almost no love triangle at all. Which, yay! Down with love triangles!

  • I love how I always learn something new when I read your blog. This time its polysyndeton, I never knew that was the word for this kind of thing. I just finished a book which had a similar sort of issue, and I was groping for words to describe the overuse of the and conjunction throughout.

    • Gin Jenny

      Enjoy “polysyndeton”. I love knowing the words for literary devices — learned all of them in Latin class over the years. The opposite thing, where the authors use no conjunctions, is asyndeton. The more you know!

  • I find that the last book in a series almost always disappoints me, because it sometimes ends up being very independent from the other two books. Glad to see that this is not the case here!

    • Gin Jenny

      Yep, it’s definitely not! The last book in a series is a tricky thing to pull off, especially when — as here — I was waiting for it for a while before it came out. I was glad Taylor was so successful.

  • I love it when people know the names of rhetorical devices.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, then I AM YOUR WOMAN. I know the names of ALL the rhetorical devices. Comes from being crazy into Latin.

  • I thought this wrapped up the series pretty well. But really I am just commenting because polysyndeton. And also, “During tense moments, Laini Taylor is prone to taking a time-out from the action to think lots of sad thoughts about what the possible outcome of these tense moments will be.” – Ha!

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, I’m glad I could draw you in with my references to random literary devices. :p

  • So, I’m guessing I need to stop this habit I have of starting series and not finishing them then, huh? And like, go back and read the second one and then this one. Because you just compared it to Monsters of Men (be still my heart) and that’s almost like a call to arms, er, call to pick up the damn book.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, yes, I think you should read them. While also being aware that they are not on the Patrick Ness level. Really quite good books, but not as good as Chaos Walking.

  • “Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the conclusion of Laini Taylor’s Nouns of Atmospheric Nouns trilogy, knocks it out of the park on all of these fronts.” This is why I love you. I had no interest in this series before, but dangit, you hooked me with “nouns of atmospheric nouns!”

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahaha, glad I could lure you in with snark. :p

  • aartichapati

    So I admit this series did not interest me because I just cannot take the titles seriously. Are gods and monsters even in this book? Were blood and starlight in the last one? After Ghana Must Go and Sold for Endless Rue, I just do NOT understand the randomness of titles.

    That said, after reading this review, it does sound like a good series.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yep, fair enough. It’s a good series with good worldbuilding, and the titles are not my favorite.

  • Reading this has made me realize I still haven’t posted my own review. Thank you for dropping some knowledge on me. I thought a lot about polysyndeton while reading this book but had no idea what it was called. Maybe having an actual word will help me rally my thoughts.

    You don’t care about Akiva and Karou? But…but…fine…
    I will admit that the hangups in their relationship almost got too angsty for me but I’m with you on the love triangle.