SPOILER WARNING: While I have tried to keep SPOILERS to a minimum for book one of this series, The Diviners, some spoilery-ness has been unavoidable. Tread carefully.
At the end of The Diviners, in a typical Evie move, our pretty Miss O’Neil announced to the newspapers that she was a Diviner able to ‘read’ objects belonging to other people. In this second installment of Bray’s series, Evie now takes a backseat so that we can become better acquainted with some of the other characters who have displayed unusual powers and abilities – some of which are a lot less palatable than Evie’s own rather marketable skill. In particular, we get to know Henry better in this volume and we meet Ling Chan, both of whom are dream-walkers. Which is handy, because a sleeping sickness is sweeping New York City and it appears to be supernatural in nature …
If anything, Lair of Dreams was even better than The Diviners. And not just because Evie had less to say and her Uncle Will was mostly absent. Ling and Henry are both fabulous – Ling for her crispy exterior (I loved her from the moment it was revealed that she does not hug) and Henry for his gentle lovelorn heart – and they’re wonderful company without eclipsing the other cast members, about whom more tantalising secrets are disclosed. Bray ups the ante nicely with the sleeping sickness and the visions, dreams and encounters with the man in the stovepipe hat, who looms a little larger without yet uncovering his full (and no doubt terrible) plan. The Shadow Men too, add another frisson of dread, as only nondescript pairs of men in nondescript suits driving nondescript cars can do.
Now let me share a little about each of these characters because they’re doing all the heavy-lifting and I’ve become fond of them all, dagnabbit:
Evie, for all her flaws, is still carrying the weight of her confrontation with Naughty John around with her, and we’re starting to see the cracks in her bright exterior as she leans more heavily on the gin and partying to drown out the noise. Flaws inevitably improve a character and I’ve a lot more sympathy for Evie since finishing this volume.
Jericho’s feelings for Evie may get stamped all over in this book, but it makes for a much more interesting dynamic between him and Mabel and while my secret suspicion is that he’ll die before the end of the series, I’d like to see a Jericho-Mabel conclusion if he doesn’t, because love doesn’t always have to be a lightning-bolt. In other news, Jericho is still struggling with what he is, and now, what Jake Marlowe (bad guy?) might want him to do.
Mabel, our only non-supernaturally-powered person and Evie’s long-suffering friend, has my undivided loyalty. She doesn’t get many of the best lines, or the attention she deserves for being smart and steady and for growing up well-adjusted despite her passionately Socialist parents and having no siblings for company. I don’t know what mischief Arthur Brown may be leading her into, but I have absolute faith in her ability to deal with it.
Henry’s backstory is a sad but not unexpected one and perhaps more interesting for the glimpse it gives us of his mother, (there is a pattern forming that suggests our Diviners are perhaps the result of an experiment of some sort? There’s certainly a lot of talk about ‘vitamins’ that is making me suspicious). Everything about him and Louis is heartachingly lovely, and the moment when he walked out of the Follies had me punching the air. If Bray doesn’t have him playing his own music at the end of the series, I’m going to be a whole heap miffed. I hate to see thwarted artists.
Theta’s storyline is heating up considerably *snigger* – not just her relationship with Memphis, but also her rather terrifying ability. And then that sneaky little note delivered at the end of the book suggests her past is going to be catching up with her very, very soon. I didn’t appreciate Theta and Memphis’s love-at-first-sight beginnings, which made me eye-roll so hard, but I am genuinely afraid for them both nonetheless and Bray is handling the tension with a surgeon’s precision.
Memphis. Oh Memphis. His love for his brother, Isaiah and his love for Theta seem to be pulling him in different directions and distracting him from the very real threat that I think Blind Bill poses. And what we’ve learned about Bill’s own power in this volume only makes me more worried. I desperately want Memphis and Isaiah to catch on. (Also, see previous comment about thwarted artists – let Memphis become a published poet Bray, please?)
Ling is my absolute favourite of this slowly coalescing found family. Intelligent, blunt and not one to suffer fools, her developing friendships with Wai-Mae and Henry demonstrate her soft and gooey centre despite her attempts to hide it – for which I love her all the more. That she’s not afraid of harsh truths makes her valuable too and I hope she’ll become the salt to Evie’s sugar. I have visions of some fun back and forth between the two of them that I hope will be realised.
And finally, Sam. Initially my least favourite character, but he’s starting to get interesting. I think I bounced off him to begin with because he didn’t appear to have any weaknesses or doubts, he was all glib exterior. The mystery of his mother and Project Buffalo is still definitely the most interesting thing about him, but the slightly wobblier Sam we meet in Lair of Dreams who does have feelings after all (and I’m not just talking about Evie here *yawn*), is a vast improvement. And, I have to admit, the running joke about the twenty dollars he stole from Evie does make me chuckle, despite myself.
So, yeah, great characters. Add to this that Bray can world-build with the best of them and can write creepy that really creeps and you’ve got all the reasons why I’m loving these books against my better judgement. Because, if I’m honest, I’m a bit snobby about YA fiction. Sometimes it can be too preoccupied with romance/love-triangles and the rest to deliver anything else and that bores me to tears. But Bray has surprised me. Yes, there’s a love-triangle, but it’s not at the centre of the story and there is so much else going on, not least Bray’s creation of an America both hopeful and confident, and rife with racism, degradation and horror – a place where history and the present are in constant dialogue. Her writing is incredibly evocative, detail-rich and immersive. Heck, that I’ve come to love Evie and Sam as much as the others is testament to that. I have, in fact, become an unapologetic fan-girl for these books and I can’t wait to read Before the Devil Breaks You (the title already has me sold).