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.
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.