After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. Now that the world knows of her ability to “read” objects, and therefore, read the past, she has become a media darling, earning the title, “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners’ abilities …
Meanwhile, mysterious deaths have been turning up in the city, victims of an unknown sleeping sickness. Can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld and catch a killer? — [X]
Note: Don’t worry. This is a spoiler free review. (For a change.)
I definitely picked Lair of Dreams, book two in Libba Bray’s The Diviners series, expecting to talk about Evie O’Neill as the detective girl who qualifies this book for the month’s theme. She and her uncle were, after all, the leading forces investigating the last book’s mysterious murders, but … everything changed when Ling Chan
Ling Chan is an Irish/Chinese American residing in Chinatown. Like Henry DuBois from The Diviners, she can walk in dreams. Unlike Henry, who has the ability to affect other dreamers’ dreamscapes by mere suggestions, Ling has the ability to find and converse with dead people, provided she carries an item that once belonged to the deceased.
When Ling and Henry bump into each other in a dream, Ling is curious and Henry is desperate. Since arriving in New York, Henry has spent one night every week looking for Louie–the boy he was forced to leave behind in Orleans when DuBois Sr. found out about their relationship and threatened to send Henry to military school. Henry believes that Ling’s powers may extend to locating living people and that they may able to join forces to find Louie. Ling, ever the aspiring scientist, is curious to see what happens, curious to push her powers, curious to explore. And while Ling and Henry make dreams their playgrounds, a sleeping sickness is starting to spread around the city. When one of Ling’s friends succumbs to the disease, New Yorkers start to believe that the disease is spreading from Chinatown. They believe the immigrant residents of Chinatown brought the disease with them. And while Ling–like the other Diviners–is certainly busy living her own life, America makes this problem a personal one for her:
The drum-and-fife company preceded orderly rows of men in white hoods and robes marching in lockstep down Broadway waving American flags and hoisting banners proudly proclaiming KEEP AMERICA WHITE AND YOU KEEP AMERICA SAFE and THE WATCHER NEVER WEARIES. Around Ling, many in the crowd applauded and whistled, cheering on the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Lair of Dreams does, of course, also follow its main cast of characters from the first book. Each one is pursuing their own small mystery that will, I’m sure, loom larger (and closer) over all of them at some point in the future books. And while Henry and Ling’s story was the focus of the novel for me, Memphis’ storyline is a close second, and Evie’s is right behind. I can’t say anything about Memphis’ arc though, since it feels like giving too much away. Evie’s arc, however, is heart-breaking, and feels … true? Evie suffers greatly in the last book and its events leave her traumatized. She deals with it by drinking, partying, and acting–always acting–like the brightest, most mischievous version of herself, while in reality, she’s mostly scared. I think that this may be seen as a con for some readers and I understand, but I also believe that it would be disingenuous of Bray to have Evie walk away from the events of The Diviners without them having any effect on her, just as it would have been untrue for Theta to have left her old life without its events weighing on her. (By that logic, however, I do feel that there was one character’s “ending” in this book’s epilogue that feel strangely untrue. You’ll probably know what I mean when you read it. It’s the only part that of the book that didn’t work for me.)
Anyway, even if Evie were sober for most of Lair of Dreams, I don’t think it would have helped the fear. I started reading this one and thinking, “Huh, not a scary as the first one.” And I was so wrong. Bray writes the kind of horror that invades your body so gently that by the time you realize, “Okay, that was creepy”, the fear has already settled into your bones and won’t let you sleep. For that reason, and a few others, I think I can honestly say that Lair of Dreams was–and I can’t believe this is possible–actually better than The Diviners. A rare feat, for a sequel to get it this right, I feel. I mean, obviously, Bray can write fantasy and mystery like no one else, but there is so much more to this book–and she gets all of that right too.
From systemic oppression and micro-aggressions, to outright xenophobia and the kind of violence you do to yourself, Lair of Dreams rubs the gilt off New York’s history to expose the city’s grimy inner workings. And it does so in a way that connects those uneasy, oft ignored aspects of the past with current events. Bray could have chosen to merely point at the seedier side of history for the sake of sympathy, but she goes one step further and creates characters and stories that make it hard for readers’ to get away with just one perfunctory, sad glance. Lair of Dreams is a hard book to look away from–in more ways than one.