Lair of Dreams: Ghostly problems plague NYC

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Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray Horrible Monday SFF Reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsLair of Dreams by Libba Bray

“To believe in one’s dreams is to spend all of one’s life asleep.” – Chinese proverb

“Every city is a ghost.” – Opening line of Lair of Dreams

Dreams become traps and deadly nightmares in Lair of Dreams, the second installation in Libba Bray’s DIVINERS fantasy horror series. In 1927, a crew of men is opening up an old walled-off tunnel underneath the streets of New York City in order to build a new subway tunnel. The workers find a desiccated body in a walled-off area. Soon the men begin to die of a mysterious sleeping sickness, where the afflicted cannot be awakened and die after a few days. The sickness is blamed on Chinese immigrants, but really it attacks people regardless of age or race.

Lair of Dreams picks up not long after the events of the first volume, The Diviners. Evie O’Neill has left her uncle’s New York City home and is the latest popular celebrity, using her psychic skills — she can touch an object and see its history — and her quick wit to gain fame and fortune. Evie has told Jericho, her uncle’s assistant who is in love with her, that she can’t continue to see him because Evie’s best friend Mabel is in love with him. Evie is manipulated into a pretend engagement with Sam, a handsome con man and thief who is hiding secrets of his own. But events will pull all of them together, as well as several other familiar characters from the first book and a few new characters, to fight the ghostly problems that continue to plague NYC.

Somewhat to my surprise, I enjoyed Lair of Dreams much more than The Diviners. Evie is still, for me, an irritating and rather self-absorbed character, but it becomes clear that she’s drinking and partying hard to try to avoid her problems.

With her smudged eyes and her dainty red Cupid’s bow lips, Evie reminded Sam of a sparkling party favor on the cusp of New Year’s, just this side of discarded…. “Evie,” he said, taking gentle hold of her hand. “The party can’t go on forever.”

Evie looked up at Sam, defiant but slightly pleading, too. Her voice was nearly a whisper. “Why not?”

She pulled her hand free of Sam’s grasp, and he let her go, watching as she ran headlong toward the hedonistic throng.

Lair of Dreams also weaves together several other threads, including Ling, a Chinese girl handicapped by the aftereffects of polio, who is a dream walker; Henry, another dream walker who is searching in both the dream world and the real world for the boy he fell in love with in New Orleans; and Memphis, a young black man struggling to deal with both his healing abilities and his forbidden love for a white woman. I thought these interrelated stories worked well together, and all of them were interesting to me, particularly with Ling and Henry meeting in the dream world, working together but each pursuing his or her individual interests and goals. The ghostly plot, though it involves many deaths, was intriguing, especially the dream world and its interrelationship with and effect on the real world — and it wasn’t nearly as off-putting to me as the devilish serial killer spirit in The Diviners, although some readers may miss the higher level of creepy horror.

The overall plot had a few too many threads to it, risking loss of the reader’s attention from the frequent point of view switches and different plotlines. When the dream creatures enter the real world and start attacking people in the streets, the story strays from its initial sense of dreamy horror. There are also several plot lines that are left unresolved for the next volume in the series. Just as the book is wrapping up and most of the threads were being tied together, several pieces of the plot begin to unravel again with an extended epilogue that leaves the reader with some rather irritating cliffhangers.

However, Libba Bray is a talented author and has done a great deal of research that benefits the story, not just about the Roaring Twenties in New York City, but also about New York City’s Chinatown and the immigrants and citizens who lived there in the 1920s. Bray also really has a way with creating a scene. At one point the Chinese population, who are being unfairly blamed for the sleeping sickness, are all being detained by the police:

“You’ll be safe in here,” her uncle said and shut the door. But Ling knew she wasn’t safe anywhere. Not when people could hate the very idea of you. Not when there were ghosts in your dreams. Ling shut her eyes and listened to the sounds of her neighbors being taken away in the night.

If you liked The Diviners, I think you’ll really enjoy Lair of Dreams.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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  1. I like that Bray makes her novels diverse, especially considering the time period she’s writing about. Too many authors end up whitewashing period fiction, and I have to wonder when they think anyone other than white Europeans came to America! :)

    • Yes, I especially liked the Chinese characters in this book. I don’t know that I would have caught any inaccuracies in her descriptions of 1927 NYC Chinatown and its culture and inhabitants, but my sense is that Libba Bray was very careful in her research.

  2. This is an interesting time period in America’s history and I like the idea of exploring it from different angles based on your cultural experience. I do think the illness sounded a little bit like “The curse of Kig Tut’s tomb” though.

    • The similarity to King Tut’s curse hadn’t occurred to me. That’s an interesting thought. In fairness, as the cause of the sickness is explained toward the end of the book, it’s more complicated than a simple “you disturbed my rest” curse. :)

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