Title: Lair of Dreams
Author: Libba Bray
NO SPOILERS FOR LAIR OF DREAMS BUT THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FOR THE DIVINERS. SPOILERS WILL BE IN BLACK BOLD.
“Every city is a ghost.”
And so begins the second installment of the magical journey into 1920’s New York. A sleeping sickness has taken over. People are literally being sucked into their dreams and burned from the inside out. But while this is happening, we follow our Diviners and their struggle to fulfill their own dreams. Evie dreams of becoming more famous and adored as America’s “Sweetheart Seer”; Henry dreams of finding his lost lover; Jericho dreams of loving Evie and restoring the museum; Mabel dreams of Jericho; Sam dreams of his missing mother; Memphis and Theta dream of being together without secrets of their powers, and newcomer Ling Chan, dreams of a life without burdens and prejudices.
Reading this book was like being in a dream. Countless authors–historical, fantasy or otherwise–are exceptional worldbuilders. They make me feel like I’m a part of the world they have created. But Libba Bray takes worldbuilding to a whole other level. Because I don’t just feel like I’m a part of the world, I. am. truly. there. And when I read this book, I understand why this book took 3 years to write. Libba Bray leaves no stone unturned. It’s not just the accuracy of the locations of NY (Chinatown and Beach Transit Co.) or the precise depiction of 1920’s culture (racism, sexism, homophobia) but she also takes care to keep the figures of speech, tones of inflection and dialogue consistent not just for the time period but for every single character in this book. It makes the reading experience totally immersive and I was never once confused which perspective I was reading from and there were a lot of perspectives (with a focus on Henry and Ling, then Evie and Sam, Memphis and Theta, with Jericho and Mabel having the fewest chapters). And just to show the intricacies of her worldbuilding, I’ve taken an Asian-American studies class in college and I learned about the discrimination of Chinese immigrants including the Chinese Exclusion Act and paper sons and daughters and every single thing that I learned about that topic was interwoven cohesively and accurately throughout this book. This is not something she could have done by just randomly looking up one Wikipedia article. And because of this, Bray manages to capture the surreal beauty of the 1920’s but also its prejudices and jarring hatred.
A gust of wind battered the colorful paper lanterns hanging from the eaves of the Tea House restaurant on Doyers Street. Only a few diners remained, lingering over plates scraped clean of food and cups of tea whose warmth they were reluctant to leave.
It sounds dense which is probably why I’ve heard so many reviewers downrate this book because it is slow. But I think what I realized is that this book was never meant to be fast-paced. Which is actually a bold writing move considering that YA novels thrive on their quick and snappy plots. But not this book and it doesn’t care. It has no problem being the tortoise. It is utterly reassured in its pacing and forced me to really savor Bray’s words and by consequence, her characters whose layers are slowly revealed one by one throughout this story. And even if the plot isn’t entirely satisfying, the characters and their depth definitely make up for it.
I adore each and every one of these characters. I really do. Henry and Ling totally made my heart melt with their friendship. I loved their Inception-like dream walks together and you get tons of backstory on them.
“Pos-i-tute-ly isn’t a real word,” she said.
“Why, it pos-i-tute-ly is! It’s in the dictionary, just before prob-a-lute-ly.”
“You’re doing that simply to annoy me.”
Jericho honestly is on my list of fictional boyfriends. Sam gets a lot of spotlight in this book and we can see him for more than just a sleazy pickpocket. Memphis and Theta get a lot of action and not as much backstory because those were explored in the last book. But I think I adore Evie most of all. I feel really protective of her because I know a lot of readers don’t really like her lol. I get it. She is annoying. She is selfish and petty, really ditzy sometimes, indecisive, hedonistic to a fault and is basically drunk all the time. In fact she is drunk at a part in the book when they are all basically running for their lives. But I love her because she is so realistic? Not sure if that’s the right word but her character is just so interesting because she hides her insecurities and fears through this facade of “happiness” and parties but even at the end of the book she still hasn’t quite finished running away from her problems and every other Diviner sees right through her except for herself.
And because in any other YA book, Evie would not have been the main character or at least not as focused on. It would have been Mabel (the quiet do-gooder) or Theta (the responsible take-action girl) or even Ling (the sarcastic, witty and determined girl) but it’s not. I love that Bray allows Evie to be flawed in ways that other YA heroines aren’t allowed to because it would make them too “unlikeable”.
Tangents aside, the book comes to a head in the last 100 pages where almost all the action happens. It answers a lot of questions about the Diviners and the sleeping sickness mystery but it also opens up another door of questions that I think sets up the next book for a lot more plot development specifically involving Sam’s mom and I’m super excited.
It’s not as good as the first book, but Lair of Dreams is a very worthy sequel. I’m afraid that the next book isn’t going to come out until probably 2018 but if this is the end product, I suppose I can wait.