Author: Libba Bray
Series: A Diviners Novel 02
Read Type: eARC
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After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O'Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. With her uncanny ability to read people's secrets, she's become a media darling. It seems like everyone's in love New York City's latest It Girl - their 'Sweetheart Seer'.
But while Evie is enjoying the high life, her fellow Diviners Henry DuBois and Ling Chan will fight to keep their powers secret.
A malevolent force is at large, infecting people's dreams and claiming victims in their sleep. At the edges of it all lurks a man in a stovepipe hat who has plans of nightmare proportions . . .
As the sickness spreads, can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld to save the city?
Strong language: Mild, some derogatory
Violence: Some, semi-graphic
Sexual content: None
I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley, via Little Brown publishers, in return for an honest review.
Please note, any quotes within are not from the commercial copy of the novel and may be subject to change.
“Dream with us, dream with us, us, us, the dream wants you wants you wants you to dream to dream to dream with us.”
Deep underground in New York, 1927, many men, often considered second-class citizens because of their racial heritage, dig subway tunnels for the future. One group accidentally come across a caved in subway station, long since abandoned. As they explore they find a music box playing an ancient tune, lulling them all into peace… Until they find the skeletal corpse! That night they dream of the music, of their wildest hopes and dreams with only one condition: the dream wants them to stay. If they try to fight it the Dreams turns into their worst nightmares. None of the men ever wake again.
The sickness quickly spreads through Chinatown, getting the name the Chinese Sleeping Sickness, despite it taking all races and classes indiscriminately. The prejudice against the Chinese, and Chinatown as a whole increases. Life becomes dangerous for all minorities as people hold irrational fears and quarantines are put into place.
This is the second novel in the Diviners series. I haven’t read the previous novel but I didn’t have much difficulty adapting to the scenario. Diviners appear to be various forms of psychics, some speak to the dead, read objects, can walk in dreams or even heal. This appears to have become increasingly common since events of the previous novel.
One such diviner, Evie O’Neill has her own radio show reading the memory of objects for her avid listeners. She has become a celebrity, with crowds lining the streets, and rowdy parties every night in her lifestyle. She’d obviously had a major part in the previous novel and had moments when she showed stress and suffering due to this. I couldn’t however connect to this character. She felt overly pretentious and very shallow at times. I must have connected on some level though because I found myself muttering her catchphrase Pos i tute ly a couple of times.
Initially the novel jumps between many characters of different lifestyles, race and ages. This let me really see New York, from the slums, to the working families, the minorities and the majorities, as well as the rich and famous. It really grounded me in the world, and I saw many different aspects and opinions of what the sleeping sickness was and what to do about it. There were however many sections that didn’t cover this at all, people carrying on with their day-to-day lives that at times left the plot meandering. Every character had their own desires, means and subplot. At the quarter mark I was concerned about the lack of plot progress and direction, unsure of the main characters and what was being done. Nevertheless, I was still interested, and with the increasing amount of Sickness victims the characters began to know people who were affected.
The language was rich and vibrant, using many terms from the time. I felt real and authentic, almost like that book was written in the 20’s in places. I did feel this went too far in places though, making me have to stop in the middle of an immersive scene to find out what something meant. Maybe much of this was introduced slower in the first novel, but I felt a poor job was done of integration into a young adult novel in this installment. I’m all for using this language to give depth, but it can be done while explaining what it means better than this showed.
I particularly liked the character Ling, a young Chinese girl working in her family’s teashop while having dreams of studying physics. She often had books surrounding her on these subjects, causing teasing from her peers, unless she was taking requests to speak to the dead for people. I felt she was a very strong character, far ahead of her time in ambitions, not willing to let her race hold her back, and with a disability I believe was polio, she showed a good demographic for a main character. I particularly enjoyed her dream walks, seeing the difference in her when she could take her splints off, discard the crutches and run freely. Once she met Henry, another dream Walker who could share dreams with her, the Dreams quickly became my favourite part of the novel. The backgrounds of the Dreams were often insubstantial and couldn’t be touched, yet the dream itself was that much more real for it. I think here the language was the most vibrant, and the characters the most free. They often fell far closer to contemporary characters, less of a barrier separating them from our time with sarcasm, humour and dry wit.
“Yes. Bloody clothing is often a clue that something has gone awry,” Henry demurred.
Most of the characters were young, however the demographic was very varied. You had black, white, Chinese, gay, straight, rich, poor and disabled. While I applaud the author for giving the reader the full variety of society who are often hidden in historical fiction, I did feel some of these were put in for the sake of it without an actual plot reason. Not having read the previous book though this could have been explained there.
As the plot progressed it became clear that this was not a normal sickness. It was being caused by something far beyond the realm of normal, far beyond what the government could deal with. It was time for the diviners to step in once more. This was when the novel really stepped up its game, many of the characters came together, their plotlines beginning to merge, although they still held to their individualities and their own desires. This caused the very human rift between the characters, it was far from the trope of “something terrible happens and random people dropped their lives to fix it”. They all had different ideas, priorities and moralities.
“C’mon, Freddy,” Sam goaded, still trying to jimmy the lock. “Is your curiosity button on the fritz?”
“No. Neither is my code-of-ethics button. Maybe you can ask Santa to bring you one of those for Christmas.”
I felt the language only grew stronger as the story continued. As the plot thickened I was pleased to see that the author employed methods such as newspaper articles, letters and switching points of view to give news, rather than lengthy boring exposition. Both the dream world and the waking world we used, building both emotion and tension as cracks appeared in the perfect veneer the characters wanted to see of their lives. I think during this stage too many aspects were added to the plot, with monsters leaving the dream world to attack the waking especially, with no real effect behind them, or solid conclusion. I think the plot could have been better split into two separate novels at this point, it was by no means short of ideas, the book just didn’t have enough space or time to deal with them all adequately. I was particularly interested in the side plot that suggested the government had a secret department using diviners. While this was looked into it was never perfectly clear one way or the other. I hope the next novel continues this.
The finale was emotional and exciting, I didn’t know who would survive. Characters had to split their differences and ditch their ways of life to save all the ‘normal’ people in the rest of America. It ended with a bang, but the last couple of chapters produced more incomplete plot threads and questions that I’m sure will carry into the third novel. I’d like to have seen this cleared up a bit more as some main areas were left up in the air, but I guess I’ll just have to read book 3 to find out what happens next.
The world is safe again, or is it? What will the diviners do with their powers that seem to be increasing?
“Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me/Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee.…”
this novel was incredibly atmospheric, and a good description of what 1920s New York looked like. The characters were well written, even the ones only had one scene felt fleshed out.
I felt the language, while very true to the time and adding to the intensity of the environment, gave very few concessions to the modern reader, especially as this book is aimed at young adults. On several occasions it threw me and I had to stop to look it up. I feel this could have been improved.
The story itself meandered through several threads and many point of view characters. Most of the time this added in richness, but occasionally it became distracting.
This novel had its flaws, but I loved the style. I hope to get an opportunity to read more from this series in the future.
I give this novel 4 stars.