The book Lair of Dreams, the sequel to The Diviners by Libba Bray, was a long time coming. But since I’ve been reading Libba Bray since I was 12 all the way back in 2003, I knew her penchant for pushing back deadlines and making fans really earn the next installment in a series/trilogy. But this one, like her others, was worth the wait.
Libba Bray is the author of a book series that changed my life when I was a young teenager: A Great and Terrible Beauty and its two sequels, books set in Victorian England and featuring a female character with connections to a supernatural world of power that she can control. Bray’s new series follows along the same lines.
Set in 1920s New York, a world of flappers and speakeasies, the Harlem Renaissance and Ziegfeld girls, The Diviners is about a group of teenagers who have psychic or supernatural abilities. The second installment follows eight different main characters, each with a rich backstory, strong characterizations, a different “ability,” and distinct voices.
There’s Evie O’Neill, the quintessential flapper and an object reader. She loves the high life, and she loves being the famous Sweetheart Seer, her radio personality. There’s Theta Knight, a sultry Ziegfeld girl with a dark past. Henry DuBois, a dreamwalker looking for his lost love, a boy named Louis he left behind in New Orleans. Memphis Campbell, a poet from Harlem who can heal with one touch. Ling Chan, a resident of Chinatown and a victim of polio who finds solace in her dream world, where she can do anything she likes.
And more…each unique, each interesting. It’s truly a feat to have such a varied cast, all of them main characters, all of them with a different voice, all of them as interesting as the last. As episodic as the book is, it never feels fragmented, and I never was annoyed to turn the page and find that this or that character was now the focus. I liked them all.
Oh, and these books are also literally the scariest books I’ve ever read. They’re horror stories at heart, so in the last one there was a ghostly murderer killing people and stealing body parts so he could build himself a body. I didn’t sleep for the entire time I read it.
This installment is slightly less horrifying, but just as gruesome. When the earliest (shut down) subway station in New York is accidentally discovered by a trio of workmen deep in the bowels of New York, a ghost is awakened who enters the dreams of its victims, showing them their deepest desires and then using that dream to sap their life force. The “sleeping sickness,” as the terrified New Yorkers call it, causes its victims to enter into an unending sleep while they burn from the inside out. Scorch marks appear on their bodies as they dream and dream—until they die.
Oh, and the ghost is also snatching people and turning them into monsters with razor-like teeth, horrifying howls and screams, and jaws that unhinge to attack their victims. Imagine Gollum but ten times scarier.
Despite its horror, this book is still very much character driven. Evie especially is a character who goes through many “growth spurts,” and each character has to face an inner demon as important as the physical ones that threaten to kill them and everyone they love. Memphis struggles to be a poet and has to deal with racism in 1920s New York. Ling Chan lives in Chinatown during the height of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and also faces racism. Theta deals with her murky and violent past, Henry copes with hiding and also accepting his homosexuality, and so on. The book is so rich, steeped in history and social issues, and the characterization is never sacrificed for the sensational.
I’m seriously impressed with the writing, as well. Since 2003, Libba Bray has become a truly talented wordsmith, even more so than she was.
“Every city is a ghost.
New buildings rise upon the bones of the old so that each shiny steel beam, each tower of brick carries within it the memories of what has gone before, an architectural haunting. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of these former incarnations in the awkward angle of a street or filigreed gate, an old oak door peeking out from a new facade, the plaque commemorating the spot that was once a battleground, which became a saloon and is now a park.”
At the heart of this book is New York, a rich tapestry that becomes a character in and of itself. New York fiction is perhaps my favorite “genre.”
I really don’t have much criticism of this YA novel. I think it’s a must read, for all ages. It’s epic, important, full of truth and beauty, and just as striking as the first book I read by Bray, about 12 years ago.