My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m a huge fan of historical fiction that’s not set too far back in the past. The early 20th century is hugely fascinating to me because it was such a turbulent time, caught between the two World Wars, with huge sociopolitical upheavals and the effects of first wave feminism. Add to that the jazz age and flappers, and the setting of Libba Bray’s Diviner’s series is catnip to me.
The second book, Lair of Dreams, returns to New York City in the early 1920s, bringing the reader back into the world of Evie O’Neill, the “Sweetheart Seer” and her motley assortment of friends. Evie takes something of a backseat in this book, although she’s still crucial to the plot. Meanwhile, friend Henry Dubois and a new character named Ling Chan take center stage as the Diviners try to solve the mystery of what’s behind a terrifying new “sleeping sickness” affecting New Yorkers. Hot on the heels of 1918’s Spanish Flu, another epidemic shatters the fragile facade of inclusiveness in the city, leading to calls for Chinatown’s population to be segregated and deported.
As Henry and Ling descend into their dreams first for their own reasons, and then to solve the mystery of the illness, Evie has her hands full with Sam Lloyd as they try to discover the truth behind the mysterious Buffalo Project, a thread that runs through both novels in the series to date and ties them together. At the same time, Jericho, Theta and Memphis are fighting their own battles as they come to terms with who they are.
Lair of Dreams is a story that in a way feels very self-contained, and could probably be read mostly independently of The Diviners, although it helps to have some background knowledge of each character’s history. There are also threads that are left untied, with the expectation that there will be a third book (or possibly more) in the series to tie up loose ends and solve the mysteries that remain.
One of the great strengths of both books is the language that Bray uses. The challenge of writing a book set in the past is getting the “voice” of the period correct; many writers fail to tend to this detail, but when it’s done well, it greatly enhances the reader’s ability to get immersed in the story. Bray’s facility with the slang of the period is a testament to not only her writing skill, but her ability to get inside her character’s stories. She should also be recognized for the richness of her characters; the Diviners come from a variety of sociopolitical backgrounds, cultures, and orientations, and these books are all the more interesting and engaging for it.
While I felt that the first book was a little stronger in terms of plot, Lair of Dreams certainly entertains. I look forward to the next book in the series, and hope that it comes along in a shorter period of time than elapsed between the first two.
Digital ARC graciously provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and Netgalley.