How do you know what is evil and what is good? Are there such distinctions? “Lair of Dreams” by Libba Bray explored some very deep issues and it made for an absorbing read. The flat out evil presented in “The Diviners” was terrifying and made for creepy late night moments, but “Lair of Dreams” presented a more nuanced story. And it was an engaging, enjoyable read.
“Lair of Dreams” picks up a short time after “The Diviners.” The cast of characters we’ve come to love are at odds, still recovering from the John Hobbes case. Evie O’Neill is now in the national spotlight as the Sweetheart Seer and the country has gone Diviner crazy. But for all her success on the radio, her personal life is complicated. She and Uncle Will are on the outs. She’s running from Jericho and the complications of their attraction. Sam Lloyd is still there, trying to get her help to find out about Project Buffalo and the whereabouts of his mother. She and Theta aren’t as close in this story due to Theta’s blossoming relationship with Memphis and Evie’s drowning her fears in gin. Mabel doesn’t know how to be friends with this partying, flapper Evie. And poor Henry is searching for his lost love, Louis, in nightly walks within dreams.
Then people begin to fall asleep and never wake up. The sleeping sickness is centered in Chinatown and suddenly the Chinese immigrant, and really any “foreign” populations, become the target of fear and hate. But, why are people falling asleep for days and then finally dying? We meet a new Diviner who lives in the center of Chinatown; the brusque, intelligent Ling Chan, who also walks in dreams.
Will this group of talented Diviners come together to save the city from the sleeping sickness? And what greater darkness and power is on the horizon?
There is so much to this book and I think my brain will continue to pick apart the plot for a few days. Always the sign of a great book! There are a couple of thoughts floating to the surface 12 hours after I finished the read.
Bray really amps up the “lost generation” aspects of the characters in “Lair of Dreams.” As I was reading, I had flashes of “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Great Gatsby.” At moments, you felt like you were spinning out of control with the characters, each of them searching for something and yet very afraid of finding it. Henry and Sam were literally searching for someone they loved and clarity into their pasts. The yearning and hope that if they could just find this key their futures would be secure was painful at moments. Evie, poor fearful Evie, is running as fast as she can from those she loves because to love is to lose. She is the epitome of the flapper drowning her life in gin. At moments it made me crazy, and then we were reminded what she faced in John Hobbes. Memphis and Henry, like Evie, hoped that society’s acknowledgement of their talents would lead to success and fame. And that is the crux of it all, isn’t it? Where do you find the meaning of life?
What is evil and what is good? “The Diviners” felt very clear on the existence of an evil big bad. John Hobbes was terrifying. “Lair of Dreams” wasn’t as clear about where the lines of good and evil exist. Each of the Diviners deals with this to some extent, although Theta may have it the worst. And the “big bad” in this story is complicated. At the root of the supernatural element in this story is the evil of everyday humans (I won’t tell anymore because I don’t want to give too much away). There are others on the periphery of the story who, I’m sure will take a bigger role in the next book, we don’t know much about and their ethical and moral choices shift on the reader.
The shining American standard espoused in the early 20th century hid a darkness that is truly terrifying. Bray is not about to whitewash the darkness that existed in the 1920s. The genius is how she uses the supernatural to uncover the racism and fear trembling just below the surface of society. The moments we experienced with Ling as Chinatown was placed in the crosshairs with the sleeping sickness were terrifying. In many ways, the dream world Henry and Ling entered each night mirrored this. On the surface all seemed so wonderful and, yet, there was darkness there. You could hide your eyes to it, but it was still there. Jake Marlowe, a secondary character, presents an interesting glimpse of the PR machine that pumped out the “mighty America” marketing—as long as you were white. He is a mysterious character who we learn has a history with Uncle Will and the Diviners. And Jericho owes his life to him. Jake espouses the power of science and a hope for the next great evolution of humankind, again, if you’re white.
In the end, the power and beauty of diversity will save us all. As you read, you are faced with the hate and racism society has to offer. Bray crafts a beautiful tapestry of characters. Male and female. Studious and those who take action. Various ethnicities. Various Diviner powers and no Diviner powers. The strengths of each come together to make a stronger team. It’s highlighted by the powerlessness of the quarantines, closures and hate marches. Only through the cooperation of a disparate group of people can the sleeping sickness be defeated.
All of this to say: GO READ THIS SERIES. Libba Bray has created two solid stories with a powerful overarching story with more to come. I look forward to reading more about each of these complicated characters and how Bray will weave their stories together (novellas about these characters wouldn’t be disappointing! Hint, hint). Oh, and I’m totally Team Jericho.