Before the Devil Breaks You: Another solid entry in an engrossing series

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsBefore the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews young adultBefore the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

This is the third of four planned books in Libba Bray‘s THE DIVINERS series, set in New York in the 1920s, in which speakeasies, jazz and the Prohibition ruled the streets. The titular Diviners are a group of people from all walks of life that have one thing in common: preternatural gifts.

Evie is a radio personality that can glean psychic visions from handling certain objects. Memphis Campbell is a black poet and healer. Theta is a Zeigfeld girl who can start fires. Ling is a disabled Chinese girl who can communicate with the dead. Henry DuBois is a gay pianist who can wander in people’s dreams. Sam Lloyd is a Jewish pickpocket who can render himself invisible to those around him.

You couldn’t think up a more motley crew, and yet all of them have come together on more than one occasion in order to save the city from a supernatural threat. As they delve into their shared history, and their collective sightings of the sinister “man in the stovepipe hat”, they begin to realize just how powerful and yet vulnerable they are.

Libba Bray has written a huge, sprawling saga that manages to juggle a myriad of characters (the above list isn’t even half of the named characters in Before the Devil Breaks You!), a nation-wide conspiracy, and a terrible lurking danger that takes the form of the King of Crows, hinted to be the cause behind all the supernatural phenomena going on in the city.

With reports of ghostly activity around New York, the Diviners find themselves more in the spotlight than ever, revered and condemned in equal measure by the increasingly panicked public. From the mist-shrouded mental hospital on Ward’s Island, to the estate of the wealthy Jack Marlowe in the Adirondack Mountains, the story forces our protagonists to confront their fears and their past, and work together to combat the evil moving against them.

Each character gets their own little subplot — Evie grapples to maintain her popularity against an Evangelist preacher on the airwaves, Mabel gets caught up in the plots of anarchists, Jericho goes undercover at the Marlowe estate, and Theta tries to avoid the abusive husband that she fled from years ago.

That Libba Bray can keep track of it all is a marvel in itself, and there’s no one character or story that’s less interesting than any other. If anything, Before the Devil Breaks You plays out like a season of television, with each chapter an episode that focuses on a particular character, moving through their personal arc, with foreshadowing and subplots, victories and defeats, setups and climaxes, before the grand finale brings them all together and permanently changes the board.

It’s been a great ride so far, and Bray is particular good at bringing 1920s America to life: not just its excitement and vivacity, but also the underlying horror of its racism, poverty, homophobia and sexism — elements that effect our protagonists in profound ways. Evil takes many forms, and Bray never forgets that most of it is banal.

These books are also wonderfully thick. There’s no way you’ll finish a Diviner story in one sitting; instead you can enjoy it unfold over the course of several days or weeks. I’m going to be sorry to see this story end, but having already mentioned television, perhaps we’ll get to see it adapted for the screen one day. It very much reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a touch of the original Ghostbusters movie (think Lovecraftian ghosts in New York City).

Published in 2017. The Diviners are back in this thrilling and eerie third installment by #1 New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray. New York City. 1927. Lights are bright. Jazz is king. Parties are wild. And the dead are coming… After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that early claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough of lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows. With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over, and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them fact-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves. Heart-pounding action and terrifying moments will leave you breathless in the third book of the four-book Diviners series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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