The first thing you need to know is that Libba Bray is a novel writing goddess. Her creativity knows no bounds. From what I read of her novels, spinning complex and intricate stories is just her thing. She is very, very good at it. Lair of Dreams is the second novel in the Diviners series, an eerie supernatural adventure series set in 1920s New York. I am most impressed by the scope of Bray’s novels. These are big, sprawling books, 600+ pages, filled with not just a handful but an entire cast of fully formed protagonists, all with different goals, motivations, desires, and secrets. Her ability to successfully explore all these vastly different characters, flesh them out, and make the audience care deeply about them is a feat. The scope of the story itself is gargantuan. It’s a weaving tale with many moving parts and subplots all serving an overarching mega plot (Project Buffalo, I’m looking at you).
Lair of Dreams picks up right where Diviners left off (if interested, see my review for the first book here). Instead of focusing mainly on Evie’s story, as was the case in the first novel, Lair predominantly revolves around the pianist Henry DuBois and Chinatown resident (and science enthusiast) Ling Chan, both of whom are dream walkers. Meanwhile, a mysterious sleeping sickness has befallen New York, leaving death and devastation in its wake. Henry and Ling’s story and interactions in the dream world as well as the mystery surrounding the sleeping sickness is the focus of the book, but much of it is also dedicated to the other characters and their lives.
It is hard to get too much into the specifics of each character without getting too spoiler-y (read ahead with caution), but Bray does such a marvelous job balancing all these different characters and simultaneously moving the plot along. This book specifically delves deeper into the realities of being a closeted young man in the city and the terrible toll it takes guarding the secret of one’s true self. Libba’s story for Henry is handled very well; his love for Louis is so pure and unadulterated. It made me very emotional. The story also explores the racism faced by Asian immigrants and Asian Americans, specifically the atrocities of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a piece of legislation that is a shameful blight in American history. Ling is an amazing character: utterly unamused, sarcastic, and smart as a whip. While love triangles are usually so passé, I like the Evie−Jericho−Sam thing that’s going on. It doesn’t feel forced and I genuinely like all of them. No idea who I’m rooting for. I also like that choosing between these two boys is really the least of Evie’s problems. Theta and Memphis are literally everything to me and Theta’s past is upsetting and fascinating and I hope she can get her happy ending. The same could be said for most of the characters. I just want everything to work out for everyone, but I’m not quite sure what is going to happen next or if that is even possible. I am dying to know more about the mysterious Project Buffalo and what Uncle Will knows about it. What’s up with that king of crows? What about those creepy dudes? JEFFERSON! WHAT IS HAPPENING?
There is a lot in this book: coming to terms with your identity, family, friendship, loyalty, brotherhood, romance, cultivating relationships, the effects of traumatic experiences, as well as fighting ghosts and stuff.
Bray’s books are incredibly unnerving. I found myself genuinely disturbed when reading Diviners and Lair did not let me down. The book straddles the line between YA, horror, and the supernatural splendidly. The parts of the book that touch on the mechanics of the sleeping sickness and the infection of the dreams are unsettling but in a beautiful way, in the kind of way that wants you to keep reading. The whole book seems to just tug you along, as if you are a patron in a gin joint. It just keeps feeding you little sips of a liquor here and there, pulling you around the party until you’re in some back closet, a little drunk and for some reason you’re crying? It’s great. So many feelings! So much! There is just so much going on this series and it is a magnificent tome. It was an excellent sequel. You should stop what you’re doing right now and go read it if you haven’t already. The whole series is brilliant and I can’t wait to see what Libba does next.
I had the great pleasure of getting to see Ms. Bray speak at the Boston Book Festival on October 24th. She was brilliant! So smart and charming. She was extremely nice and gracious and very kindly signed my book. I tried not to be a huge idiot, but it was hard. I get nervous in front of the people I admire! I could pretty much listen to her talk about her writing process all day long. I hope they recorded the session. I’d love to revisit it.
Until next time kids!