Lair of Dreams

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Diviners. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Lair of Dreams was written by Libba Bray and first published in 2015. It is a fantasy story, set in New York during the 1920s, as a mysterious and possibly supernatural plague causes fear to spread throughout the city. The story does not really stand alone as it picks up shortly after its prequel, The Diviners (2012) left off. A third instalment of the series, titled Before the Devil Breaks You, is due for release next month.

Now that Evie has revealed her power to the world, she has found herself an overnight sensation. Labelled as the Sweetheart Seer, she soon gains a weekly radio show and her life becomes an endless cycle of mysticism and revelry. However, her glamorous new lifestyle has caused her to push her old friends away. Evie’s friends think that she’s changed but they do not understand why it is that she drinks. It’s to blot out her memories of her terrible battle against the spirit of Naughty John.

Meanwhile, a new threat has struck the city. People in Chinatown have begun to be stricken by a deadly disease that causes them to fall in a deep – and eventually fatal – sleep. As the sickness begins to spread, people fear that the Chinese may be the cause and violence against the immigrants starts to rise. In her nocturnal journeys, a young dream-walker named Ling encounters Henry and reluctantly helps him in his search for his lost love. The two of them do not realise that their quest will bring them face to face with the terrible cause of the affliction.

However, the sickness isn’t the only strange thing to strike close to Evie’s home. Sam has found a new lead regarding Project Buffalo and discovered that his mother’s research may have had something to do with a nationwide hunt for Diviners. Yet what could the Shadow Men want with people with powers like his own, and how does it all connect back to the increasing sightings of a man in a stovepipe hat?

Let me just start this review by saying that I did not hate this book. This actually took me by surprise as I honestly thought that I was going to. While The Diviners did have some positive aspects, on the whole I didn’t think it was really deserving of the high praise it has received. The book was overly long and had far too large a cast, making it feel like a bit of a slog to get through. While I’m not going to argue that Lair of Dreams was a huge improvement over this, I did enjoy it a lot more and this gave me hope that the series is on the up. Let me tell you why.

The story’s most endearing feature remains its settling. The amount of research that Bray has put into her novel is just staggering. While the previous book primarily focused on the bright lights and glamour of 1920s Manhattan, Lair of Dreams allows the reader to see the city in a very different light. As a large part of the story focuses on newcomer Ling Chan, this novel puts more focus on what it’s like to live in some of the less ritzy parts of the city.

Life may be grand for the Evie’s of New York, but the minority groups are treated like second class citizens – tolerated for manual labour but otherwise blamed for most ills. As the disease begins to spread, people are quick to notice that it originated in Chinatown and blame immigration, leading to curfews, quarantines and the threat of deportation for those who live there. This overt racism was shocking, but what scared me the most was how it was completely believable. The similarities between the Chinese Exclusion Act and the attitudes of certain groups in modern day America was more frightening than any ghost in this tale.

However, even though the history behind this story was fascinating to me, I still couldn’t overlook the fact that many of the problems that I had with The Diviners are still present here. The cast of the story is even bigger this time around and Bray’s constant need to flit between them really bogs the story down. Many of the subplots from the previous story are still hanging around, yet don’t really get any more development in this novel. Theta still fears that her husband will find her. Evie and Jericho barely share a word following their kiss. Blind Bill still hasn’t managed to get Memphis to restore his vision. The only two plots that receive any tender loving care are Sam’s hunt for his mother and Henry’s search for Louis, and these are still to varying levels of satisfaction.

Sam’s story is more of a tease than anything. While some clues are revealed as to the nature of Project Buffalo, there is still a lot that we don’t know. We know that the governmental “Shadow Men” are testing Diviners, however we don’t know to what end. We know that Sam’s mother had something to do with these men, yet we don’t know for certain what her role was or what became of her. While his mission does lead to some amusing scenes with Evie, it still just feels as though Bray is really stretching this out.

However, I felt that Henry and Ling’s side of the story was a lot stronger. While this is slow burning and bogged down by frequent asides concerning the other characters, this story is heartfelt and more than a little sad. My only problem with it was that it was wholly predictable. While the plot of The Diviners maintained its mystery elements throughout, I guessed the twists of this story pretty early on and was disappointed to find that I’d hit the nail on the head. I won’t spoil them for you here, but I did feel that the clues towards both where Louis was and the origin of the sickness were not very well hidden.

The novel also didn’t really end well. There was no explosive climax and I never once feared for the safety of the characters. Although the sleeping sickness plot was resolved, so many other threads were left hanging and so the novel didn’t feel complete in its own right. Ultimately, I was left feeling as though the overarching plot – the “coming storm” and the threat of the man in the stovepipe hat (now known predominantly as the King of Crows) – did not advance at all.

That may sound like a lot of criticisms, however the thing that made me prefer this novel over The Diviners was primarily its characterisation. The previous novel mainly centred on Evie, whom you may remember was just not my cup of tea. This time around, I was relieved to find that she took a heavily reduced role. This was merciful, as between books she has become rather unlikable. While I understand that she is overcompensating due to her depression, Evie this time came across as brash, uncaring and (over the climax) seemingly determined to hurt everyone who supported her.

I was especially glad that Evie took a backseat due to the fact that Bray decided this time around to include a love triangle in her story. As she rejected Jericho at the end of The Diviners, this book saw her developing feelings for Sam and being unable to pick between the two of them. Personally I hope she sticks with Sam as she seems to have far more in common with him, yet the fact that the author felt the need to shoehorn in this tried-and-tested plot device frustrated me no end.

However, I was glad that the novel shifted its focus to Henry and Ling. While I don’t think that this will be the case in the next novel, I was glad that Henry finally got a time to shine. As the only openly gay character in the series, I was disappointed that he was so badly side-lined in The Diviners. He really is a sweet character which came across in his friendship with Ling, and his relationship with Louis. The addition of Ling to the cast also allowed the story to widen its focus, adding a fresh new perspective to the series through her love of science and Chinese superstitions. While characters like Theta and Memphis still could have stood to have a bit more development, I was just happy to see that Bray was moving her focus away from Evie.

Anyhow, this review is running long so I will wrap it up. Lair of Dreams still had a lot of problems but I found it infinitely more readable than The Diviners. It had a rich historical setting and took the time to develop some of the more likeable side characters from the previous story. I am very curious to see where this series will go from here.

Lair of Dreams can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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