Books in series: The Diviners (1), Lair of Dreams (2), Before the Devil Breaks You (3)
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
My rating: 4.5* overall (The Diviners 5★, Lair of Dreams 4★, Before the Devil Breaks You 5★)
Genres: paranormal, historical fiction, young adult
Diversity: black mc, gay mc, disabled Chinese lesbian asexual mc (book 2 onward), Jewish mc, mc with depression
Content warnings: alcohol use, attempted rape/assault for book 2, racist and homophobic language and themes, ableist language
“The land is old, the land is vast, he has no future, he has no past, his coat is sewn with many woes, he’ll bring the dead, the King of Crows.”
Since reading this series it has become one of my all time favourites and I am completely, fully obsessed with it. Like, you know when you love a book so much you can’t stop thinking about it months after you’ve finished it and the characters feel so real their happiness and wellbeing actually impacts your life a little? That is how I feel about this series. I love it that much, and I never even expected to.
This series crept up on me in a big way. It wasn’t even on my TBR for the longest time, because I thought I wasn’t interested in historical fiction but I was SO WRONG. This series is much more than I expected it to be and I am so glad I gave it a chance. The characters, the 1920’s setting, the plot, the supernatural elements. I love it all so much.
The characters are easily the best part of this series. The Diviners follows six main characters, and together they form ‘The Diviners’, a group of teenagers with paranormal gifts who get dragged into a supernatural prophecy.
Evie O’Neill is the main character and the story begins after she moves from Ohio to live with her uncle, who runs a museum dedicated to the Occult and Supernatural. She’s outgoing, effervescent and loves to be in the spotlight. She has the ability to read objects and discover truths about their owners.
The other Diviners include Memphis Campbell, a black boy from Harlem with the ability to heal people and Sergei Lubovitch, who goes by Sam Lloyd, who has the ability to stop others from seeing him. These two are most prominent charaters in the first book, alongside Jericho Jones, who works at the museum and Mabel Rose, Evie’s best friend.
In the second and third book other characters become more developed and involved in the story. There’s Theta Knight, a flapper with a mysterious past and one of Evie’s best friends. Henry Du Boiv IV, Theta’s wealthy but disgraced roommate and Ling Chan, a Chinese immigrant living in Chinatown.
I cannot tell you how much I adore these characters. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Libba Bray did a wonderful job at creating not only interesting characters, but ones that really sneak up on you and steal your heart. This is because her characters and their arcs are so well thought out and constructed. She creates changing, developing characters and so across the series its so interesting to track their development and be rewarded with character development pay off. If you liked what Six of Crows did character wise, you’ll LOVE what Libba Bray did. Because it’s a similar concept. Really flawed main characters who adapt and develop and grow. The complexity of her characters is a great strength of this series.
The Diviners is hard to explain plot wise, because there is a lot of things going on and it’s hard to condense. In the simplest terms, it’s about Evie O’Neill moving to New York and dealing with the fact she has gifts, and all the other consequences that come with it. The first book follows Evie as she uses her abilities to help her uncle solve a murder. But overarching this plot is a greater plot involving demons and ghosts, a government conspiracy, a dark prophecy and the fated power of the Diviners
I really liked how there is A LOT going on in these books. While there is the important main plot, there’s also lots of subplots going on involving a range of different issues. There’s romance plots, but also there’s social justice issue focussed plots and funny plots and scary plots and so much more.
And so many of the character subplots especially, had me dead. They’re all very well constructed and Libba Bray brings all the threads of her books together so that the payoff is amazing, and it’s so satisfying.
Finally, I love that the plot line is genuinely shocking and Libba Bray ‘Goes There’. I gasped out loud at some things that happened and it really feels like the plot is totally unpredictable, which I love. Also, Bray takes everything to unexpected heights and isn’t afraid to do things that shock you, without ever doing things that just seem purely for shock value, and I love that.
So one of the major focusses of this series is dissecting the treatment of marginalised communities by America in this time period, which is typically glamourised and sanitised. And I love that Libba Bray did that. It was informative to me as someone who doesn’t know a lot about American history, and I think it was also just something important and accurate that needs to be included more often in historical fiction.
Some things I can think of that are dealt with: Jim Crow laws, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, eugenics, Chinese immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Act, American racism and the segregation of communities of colour, especially the black community, the poor treatment of workers and the socialist movement, the plight of Native Americans and much more.
I think it’s really good that Libba Bray tackles these issues head on. The critical examination of American history and the historical, institutional mistreatment of marginalised communities is really important. The exploration of how people, especially people of colour, are exploited by the system to create the “Great America” that privileged people profit off is prominent throughout this book and I haven’t read a historical fiction that dealt with any of these issues as thoroughly and critically as The Diviners does.
I really liked that the central cast of this book was a diverse range of characters. As mentioned above, the core Diviners group is made up of six people of various ethnicities/sexualities/religions ect. I really liked how Libba Bray incorporated how social structures and privilege affected each characters life and that the treatment of various groups plays a role in the plot itself.
I am so glad I finally took my time to read this series because it has become one of my favourites. One thing I want to say is that the audiobooks for this series are absolutely fantastic and if you enjoy audios you should try these ones. The narration is incredible.
Book four is so far away but I cannot wait. This series has me hooked in such a big way, I don’t think I’ve been this hooked on a series since 2016 with Six of Crows and The Foxhole Court. It feels so good to be that invested in a series again. And I just can’t get over how much Libba Bray made me care about the romance even though 9 out of 10 times I feel pretty meh about book romance.
I think this series is so underrated and I’ve never read anything quite like it. I’m not on the lookout for anything with similar vibes so hit me up with recommendations. So far Iron Cast and the TV show Babylon Berlin have been suggested to me but that is IT. I need MORE.
This review is SO LONG but if you got this far thank you and I love you. The next section will be a spoilery section on predictions for the fourth book so if you haven’t read this series LOOK AWAY
until next time!
BOOK 4 PREDICTIONS (Spoiler Alert!)
➵ Who lives and who dies?
So after she killed Will AND Mabel (I didn’t expect Mabel to die at all) I now believe Libba Bray is totally ruthless and every character is at risk but here is my predictions.
Evie – LIVES: I just don’t think Libba Bray will kill Evie. Killing the main character is an unpopular move and I just don’t think it’s something she will do. The main character is usually a safe bet for the live character.
Jericho – DIES: I think Jericho is the character I am most confident will die. His actions in book 2, imo, put him in an irredeemable place. I think he will die delivering some vital information or protecting the Diviners. I just have a strong feeling he’s done for.
Sam – LIVES: So I do feel Sam is a massive risk, buuut the reason I think he will live is it’s too tragic for Evie if he dies. Like, if Evie’s best friend, uncle, brother and Jericho all die, and then Sam too, right after they get together. it’s too much. I feel he will come close to dying or she will think he is dead but he ends up ultimately surviving.
Henry – DIES: So.. I don’t want this to happen. And if it does I’m gonna be annoyed because bury your gays? But I feel if she kills a central diviner it will be Henry. He’s the happy funny loveable character and those are always at risk in series because when they die it feels so fucking sad. Like it’s the “all hope is lost” moment. Also, I feel like she pushed him to the side a lot and that could indicate she plans on killing him.
Ling – LIVES: I feel like Lin is safe. A lot of work has gone into her arc and character and I just feel like it’s not heading in a killing direction. I don’t have much evidence here I just feel she’s a strong bet for not dying. Also, if Henry does die, Ling is probably safe because it’s too much to kill both queer characters. It’d be a very much BYG move and I hope Libba is better than that.
Memphis – LIVES: I don’t know why but I just have this feeling she won’t kill Memphis. Kinda related to the BYG trope but he’s the main black character and killing him would feel bad and I just hope she’s better than that. I also think too much work has been put into what he wants to do, and while that is risky because it’s the “he had so many dreams but now he’s dead” trope, I just think he will be safe.
Theta – MAYBE DIES: If Henry doesn’t die I think Theta definitely will. Or maybe they both will. I think it’s more likely Henry dies and she lives but potentially it’s the other way around. Theta feels like Henry, not as much work has been put into developing their story outside of the central narrative which usually means it’s because they won’t survive the story. I do think that Theta getting the cat and witchy info from Miss Addie though is a hint she could live, and take their place as the buildings witch.
Other characters who may die: Isaiah because it’d be a really hard emotional impact but I don’t know if she will do it (killing kids is always for shock factor and never feels good). I think Miss Addie is a big chance for dying, and that makes me think Theta might live and become the next ‘witch’ in the building. Charles Marlowe probably dies and I think the King of Crows will do it, but if not him MAYBE Sam or Jericho will.
➵ James and Evie?
I think James is actually dead. I just don’t think the narrative is heading in a direction in which he can come back. BUT, I do think there will be a reunion scene between James and Evie in which they get to talk somehow, because the story has so heavily pointed at how Evie needs closure.
➵ King of Crows?
I have hardly any theories on how The King of Crows is gonna die. One thing I think is that he will definitely be defeated by some kind of group effort on behalf of the Diviners, but that it’s gonna be an effort that needs a sacrifice of some sort. I also think The King of Crows will be revealed to be a fully human character with a backstory rather than the kind of faceless entity he is now. I also think this will be related to Evie’s family in some way but I don’t know how.
➵ The Shadow Men?
In The Diviners 4, the first half will be dedicated to The Shadow Men and getting Sam back. Kind of like the structure of Crooked Kingdom. I think The Shadow Men will turn out to have some twist, like their actually ghosts or demons or something rather than actual men. And they work for the King of Crows not Charles Marlowe. I sense a double cross situation, like they will turn on Marlowe.
OKAY THAT IS ALL MY PREDICTIONS. I wanna hear alllll the Book 4 predictions you can throw at me! Especially potential title names cos’ I got nothing. And do you agree with who I said will live and die?