First Lines: Thick evening fog clung to the forlorn banks of Ward’s Island, turning it into a ghost itself. Across the dark calm of the East River, the glorious neon whirl of Manhattan was in full jazz-age bloom–glamorous clubs, basement speakeasies, illegal booze, all of it enjoyed by live-fast-forget-tomorrow flappers and Dapper Dons eager to throw off their cares and Charleston their way into tomorrow’s hangover.
So as you all know, I’m a fan of Libba Bray and books that are weird. I’ve been following this Diviners series, which is definitely weird and sometimes super creepy. So naturally, this was pretty high on my to-read list.
*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*
It’s been a rough six months for the Diviners. After overcoming the sleeping sickness that claimed two of their own, all the Diviners want are answers. They want to know why they have these abilities–why this band of misfits? But a new terror is brewing. Out on Ward’s Island sits a mental hospital haunted by the ghosts of people long forgotten–ghosts that have ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, the King of Crows. With stories of murder and possession captivating New York, the Diviners must take action. They must take on these ghosts, which brings them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as secrets come to light, loyalties are questioned and the Diviners will question everything they’ve ever known about themselves. All the while, a fight is brewing for the very soul of the nation–a fight that may claim the Diviners themselves.
This is a very very rare thing, but I felt like this Libba Bray book was kind of a miss for me. Not everything was bad, but I just couldn’t get into this the way I had the previous books.
Part of the problem, admittedly, is that I just hate the Roaring 20s. The selfishness, the egos, the excess, the blatant disregard for rules. It all drives me insane. Everyone thinks they’re the coolest thing since sliced bread. Ugh. If it weren’t for Bray’s name being on this book, I wouldn’t be reading it at all.
But I very much like the characters. Evie and Sam’s banter is hysterical. Memphis’s poetry is beautiful. Henry and Ling’s optimism in the face of struggle is endearing. Theta’s struggle to overcome her past and make a name of herself is what most of us are trying to do in one way or another. Each and every one of them has a struggle that pulls us in.
Although I will say it took me a while to get back to liking them. Part of it was because it’s been a long time since I read Lair of Dreams and I didn’t exactly remember everyone. But this book did a good job of casually reminding us about all of the characters and whatever their current goals are (like Evie keeping her radio show, Sam trying to find his mother, etc.).
What I really struggled with on this book was the fact that there’s this huge mystery in the book and it just kept dragging on and on without any progress, or so it felt. We have all of these big questions, which are absolutely crucial to the story, and it felt like we were never getting any answers. The fact that we’re following 6-8 character perspectives meant the pacing was even slower because they all have something else going on outside of Diviner business. It started to feel like a hamster wheel; we were moving but we weren’t getting anywhere.
And probably partially because I don’t remember the smaller details of the first two books, there were parts in this book that didn’t make as much sense as they could have. I mean, that’s what happens when you read books as they come out.
I still like the Diviners angle, how they’ve shown themselves to society and have to deal with that. I think all of that is pretty interesting. I like how different their powers are, but how well they interact with each other.
Oh, and something else that made this hard to read? Even though it is well done, many parts of this book have stark parallels to the news of the past 2 years. This seems to have been intentional, especially since much of what we’re seeing America revert to now is, in fact, something America already saw 100 years ago. But as someone who is struggling to make it through the news and frequently has to unplug from all the negativity, this was just more stress. There were times I had to put the book down because I just couldn’t deal with it anymore.
Libba Bray left a note in her historical note and I think it’s just so poignant. It says:
“We are a country built by immigrants, dreams, daring, and opportunity. We are a country built by the horrors of slavery and genocide, the injustice of racism and exclusion. These realities exist side by side. It is our past and our present. The future is unwritten. This book is about ghosts. For we live in a haunted house.”
So yeah. It’s not a bad book, but it was sometimes a book that was difficult to want to keep reading.
2 thoughts on “Before the Devil Breaks You (The Diviners, #3)”
I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t love it! It was definitely a heavy read, content-wise/thematically – I’m curious to see how everything plays out in the next book.
It was. And I did still enjoy the characters, I just didn’t think the pacing was good. Maybe it just wasn’t the book I needed at that moment, you know? Sometimes you pick up a book at the wrong time and have to muddle through it.