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?
Tell Me More: In The Diviners, Libba Bray introduced readers to the America of the Roaring Twenties, with a supernatural twist: diviners, or people with paranormal abilities, begin to discover their powers as they navigate through wealth, fame, ambition, or lack of. It was a long first novel in a series that required commitment from its audience. That commitment was worth it, as Bray’s prose kept readers engaged with the wide cast of characters.
Lair of Dreams comes to bookshelves two years later, with a longer page count, and more stakes to be raised. The characters and their likeability are murkier than ever, with Evie’s pursuit of fame and her slipping grasp on reality setting her firmly in one of the many moral/ethical grey areas that these characters occupy. This is a book where atmosphere is everything, and the morally ambiguous choices peppered throughout the story help to ground that atmosphere on every page. The series’ reliance on atmosphere means that Lair of Dreams not only has to keep the story moving, but also maintain and enhance the Diviners world. It accomplishes this task for the most part, and adds new plot threads to be weaved together. But even as I enjoyed returning to this supernaturally charged alternate history, I wasn’t pulled in as quickly as I had been with The Diviners.
Evie is no longer the central character–and the reader’s entry–into the story, and much of the plot hinges on supporting characters Henry, Memphis, and Ling Chan. The diverse cast is one of this series’ strengths, and I really loved that they were given more focus this time around. Henry and Ling in particular are my favourite characters because they challenge their place in the world.
Identity is a continuing theme in Lair of Dreams, with each Diviner trying to reconcile the person they want to be with the choices they face, and the consequences of those choices. Ambition appears in and affects each character differently. Evie wants fame, but is still figuring out how to handle it, and her missteps are just as important as her (sometimes unlikely) successes. Ling’s Chinese-American identity and culture are important to her, and she acknowledges their importance in the choices she makes. I loved the details Bray slipped into her descriptions of Chinatown and Ling’s family life, and I appreciated that Bray did not shy away from alluding to the insidious racism against Chinese people that still continues today. It’s all too easy to see parallels in the way Ling and her people were treated back then to the discrimination Chinese-Americans still face in 2015.
Likewise, Queer Henry’s personal history and gender identity are given more page time, which I thought was great because he sometimes felt like an afterthought in the wake of Evie’s louder personality in The Diviners. There’s a poignant scene in the last third of the novel where Henry’s frustrations and dreams come head-to-head with one another, and it’s probably my favourite bit in the whole novel. If he ever felt like a sketch of a character in the first book, it’s in Lair of Dreams where Henry grabs hold of the story for himself.
Speaking of favourite bits: fake dating/engagement is one of my top romantic tropes, so while I wasn’t sold on the romance in The Diviners, the tension between Evie and Sam Lloyd was exactly what I wanted. I’ll admit that it’s been three years since I read the first book, but I don’t remember being swept away by Jericho and Evie, so while I could see the narrative nudging me that way, I still wasn’t sold on the idea. The spark between Evie and Sam was much more palpable, and I found myself smiling every time they had to interact because the tension was just so delicious. If it comes to picking teams, I have to admit I’m going to be on Sam’s.
Romance is the least of the cast’s problems, however, with more supernatural complications coming their way. It took me a little longer to settle into the overarching plot this time around, and I wasn’t sure what I thought about the conflicts until I’d gotten past the halfway point. Overall, I found the “villain” in this book more unsettling than Naughty John, especially since so many of the characters couldn’t escape them even in their own minds. There’s something about the untapped abilities of human beings that keeps me up at night, wondering what we could be capable of accomplishing. The Diviners might be the good guys now, but Lair of Dreams forces each of them to face what they might do to get ahead or achieve their dreams. Bray doesn’t offer judgment, just scenes, and it makes Dreams a book readers will think about long after they’ve closed the covers.
The Final Say: Readers may have been dreaming of this second installment for three years, but rest assured: the wait for Lair of Dreams is worth it. Libba Bray’s newest novel will ensure that you’ll be thinking twice before you close your eyes for the night, as this book lies beside you on your bedside table, and you wonder if maybe you heard something on the stairs or behind your pillow after all…