At long last Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams, the sequel to her Roaring 20s Young Adult, supernatural thriller The Diviners, finally came out this year, and I, among many others I’m sure, was doing my clam dance when it arrived in my mailbox. It’s by far my favorite YA book of 2015, and while we still have three more months to go and more books releases to come, I’ve been waiting nearly three years for the sequels debut. It’s a package of everything of love: the ambiance of the 20s, supernatural powers, and things that go bump in the night.
Dreams meets all my expectations. This time around, we’re exploring deeper into the uncharted territory of the dream world and a new threat spreading through the city that no one could have foreseen—unless there’s a Diviner out there with the ability of clairvoyance, which there probably is. Dreams is a perfect read for this time year.
After Evie O’Neill outed herself as a Diviner (her Iron Man rendition), Diviners are cropping up everywhere, and New York City can’t enough of them, or America’s Sweetheart Seer, Evie’s radio persona. She’s climbing her way to fame through a radio show and is continuing her line of work by reading objects for her guests. She gets herself into a mess when her friend Sam Lloyd off-handily jests to a news reporter that he is engaged to the Seer. Instead of refuting the claims, Evie plays along with the rumors as it boosts her career and her celebrity status. In other words, meet the new Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald! Yet Dreams’ rotation of characters gives Ms. O’Neil a much needed step back from the spotlight and focuses more on the supporting characters.
We are introduced to Ling Chan, a young Chinese girl with the ability to speak to the dead through her dreams. She’s also a girl who’s recently lost the use of her legs and has to use crutches for the rest of her life. She encounters Henry Dubois (to jog your memory: he can dream walk and has the ability of suggestion.) It’s through their dreams that they meet a young betrothed girl named Mao, which subsequently leads Henry to reuniting with his lost love Louis, who Henry’s been tirelessly searching for ever since he had to flee from his homophobic, controlling father in New Orleans. The two of them, Ling and Henry, excessively spend their time leisurely escaping into the dream world while in the real world, a disease called the sleeping sickness is mysteriously infecting people and randomly killing people. Ling and Henry, however, are truly happy for once in their life. But staying in the dream may just prove too high of cost.
And in the meantime (because this book already does so much): Memphis’s healing powers are awakening, Project Buffalo is turning out to be a global science project, Theta Knight’s powers are becoming more unstable, and Uncle Will Fitzgerald is somewhere in the world doing X-files business.
Dream is loaded with a canvas of characters. Not all of them play a significant role in the novel’s overall plot, but they do magically assemble (Avengeresque style) during times of crisis. Though some may feel let down that their characters didn’t receive more attention (more Theta Knight, pls), it’s alluded in brusque passages and in its epilogue that these characters’ stories will surface in the third installment in the series.
Aside from adjusting the emphasis on certain roles, Bray continues to authenticate her characters by having a diverse mix. Despite the novel being a paranormal thriller series, it couldn’t be more reflective and accurate of what our population actually looks like. Wedged in Bray’s series is not only mystery, flappers, and consumption but social criticism on several issues prevalent today: sexism, racism, and bigotry. Bray intrepidly writes characters’ encounters of adversity and discrimination, punctuated more so with the main conflict of Dream, the sleeping sickness, which leads to the eventual quarantine of Chinatown. Bray never shies away from making these issues loud and known.
In light of how well written these characters are, certain romantic comedy plot devices have emerged. You know. That pesky love triangle thing.
I’m referring to the diabolical construction blooming between Jeremiah, Evie, and Sam. It’s the MOST common trope used, and I’m less than excited about the idea of plodding through texts of Evie swaying between the two boys and inadvertently hurting them and her friends along the way. Although part of the ongoing Diviner series, it’s not as pronounced, taking a backseat for the characters’ own personal demons, a reoccurring theme applied to all the characters.
While Evie hasn’t come to terms with her brother’s death (if he’s even dead or perhaps he’s the Crow Man!), Ling and Henry escape into dreams, both oppressed, one in a bitter cycle of denial and the other painfully hiding in fear. None of these characters feel a sense of belonging or feel fulfilled, which is something I think most people can relate to, whether you’re a teenager or an adult. These characters are not only complicated, but they’re identifiable.
Dreams’ gives us a tour through Chinese urban legends and superstitions. Chilling and haunting imagery floods our minds. Compared to its predecessor that takes a hard look at the frightening ‘Naughty John,’ Dreams antes up the creep factor. The culprit in Dreams is more obscure and tragic. It’s an evil produced not by some inherent carnage to inflict and terrorize others with, but it’s born out of deprivation, subjugation, and alas, the cruelty of never having your dreams realized. I had more sympathy for the perpetrator with this one, but due to my own personal fears of white, porcelain, flakey skin girls crawling out of wells, I was too freaked out to maintain that feeling of remorse for long.
Bray’s writing does not disappoint. It’s like candy we can’t get enough of. Her descriptions, especially of the macabre figures, are so fantastical and morbidly gorgeous. There’s no question that Bray is a brilliant and entertaining writer. When the story reaches its big reveal, it’s not long until everything falls into place. The pace drastically picks up and the tension sharpens. Bray’s writing coalesces with the story’s tempo and suspenseful plot. And fans who’ve read Bray’s other well-known works will positut~ely gush over the reference to her Gemma Doyle trilogy, which now I’m wondering is all in the same universe…?
If I had to find one flaw, it would be with myself and not the book. I’m so impatient when it comes to incomplete book series and having to wait for the next book to release.
There’s so much that we don’t know and the second book did seem to segue from the main story. We’re still not sure if Diviners are a natural evolution or a result from Project Buffalo. Not to mention, there are still characters’ arcs that feel like they’re complete. Characters are reaching closures way before the novel has reached its final conclusion, and I don’t want to see potential development be hacked away and turned to fodder. Do I think Libba Bray would do that? Probably not.
Ah the problems with reading incomplete book series.