Lair of Dreams is the sequel to Libba Bray’s The Diviner. This review may contain spoilers from the first book in this series.
Picking up a few weeks after the events of the first book, Lair of Dreams begins by launching the reader into the new supernatural problem in the Diviners’ world. People in New York City go to sleep, and their perfect dreams depicting their idealistic lives soon turn to nightmares. Nightmares that they can’t be woken from. These people remain in a state of permanent sleep until they die. Doctors don’t have a cure, or even an explanation. Psychologists and experts in sleep are being brought in from all over the world, yet nothing seems to come of it (the psychology nerd in me squealed when our characters met Carl Jung!) The authorities, under immense pressure from the government and the American people, are forced to strike down on the area where this “sleeping sickness” is believed to have originated: Chinatown- New York City’s Chinese population is left feeling like second-class citizens, like they are not human beings. But more than just the emotional ramifications, people are being taken out from their homes, their papers checked, and the question of further immigration very much hangs by a thin thread.
Author’s Note: “The story of America is one that is still being written. Many of the ideological battles we like to think we’ve tucked neatly into a folder called “the past” – issues of race, class, gender, sexual identity, civil rights, justice, and just what makes us “American” – are very much alive today. For what we do not study and reflect upon, we are in danger of dismissing or forgetting. What we forget, we are often doomed to repeat.”
This book was a masterpiece in the sheer complexity of its themes. Set in 1920s America where the country was all too satisfied to ignore the less-glamorous things in life, Bray’s story paints a vivid, yet extremely disturbing picture of the American illusion. Home of the free and the brave on the surface, but simmering with hatred, prejudice and outright racism against people differing in color, culture and language. Bray forces us to stand in the place of an American-Chinese character who has to face awful prejudice, and can do very little about it because it’s so institutionalized. She forces us to stand in the place of an African-American teenager, who is constantly cautious, constantly thinking over each of his moves because he knows people will look for just an excuse to damn him in his own country.
This is a book that is so important, because despite it being set in the early 1900s, some of the themes it explores are unfortunately still relevant today. The prejudice still exists today, towards some of the same groups, and some different ones. It’s a brutally honest read that makes you question things other than those on the surface: yes, it’s a story about a few characters and their struggles with the supernatural. Yes, it’s a scary read because it has ghosts and monsters. But it’s also a scary read because it has something realer than ghosts and monsters. It shows us the America hidden behind false promises, and false hopes. It shows us the ugly picture that we try so, so hard to ignore.
And perhaps even more than that, Bray manages to tackle more subtly some of the themes that made the first book so controversial. I remember reading reviews for the Diviners, and coming across people saying that it was almost blasphemous in how anti-religious it was. And while there was certainly more skepticism towards religion in Lair of Dreams, it was dialed down. The themes were more subtly incorporated through dialogue and streams of consciousness, and didn’t seem heavy-handed at all. If you’re not someone who generally latches on to quotes regarding religion, you probably wouldn’t even notice them. I am, however, rather skeptic about organized religion (including my own, lol), so quotes like the one below stand out for me, and I tend to enjoy them a lot.
“So. Tell me,” Marlowe tried gamely, “What do you think is man’s greatest invention?”
Jericho turned his head just slightly towards Marlowe, looking him straight in the eye. “God.”
In the midst of all the darker undertones, Libba Bray makes sure that we touch base with our beloved characters. Evie has come forth as a Diviner; she has her own radio show, and her talents and charming personality have dubbed her America’s “Sweetheart Seer.” Sam Lloyd is as insufferable as ever for Evie, but certain circumstances as well as just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, put the two together in a way they, nor their friends, saw coming. Theta is dealing with her past, all while trying to maintain a relationship with Memphis, who is trying to deal with the return of his powers. Henry and Ling are dream walkers, which may not be the best power to have, considering that people are getting stuck in their dreams. Bray ensures that each of her characters gets the attention they deserve; they go through development and we learn more about them, but one of the complaints I had was how she glossed over Jericho’s arc. He was one of my favorite characters in the last book (I’m a sucker for brooders, you know), so his presence was sorely missed.
Perhaps one of the things that bothered me most was how disinterested and detached I felt to Evie’s character. Her newfound fame made her already over-confident personality downright insufferable. I liked her sass and confidence in the first book, but it was taken above and beyond in Lair of Dreams. Moreover, much of her storyline felt like filler. We see her more involved in romance, but that side was the least interesting one of the book.
“Looking for truth makes a man hafta look at himself along the way.”
Lair of Dreams was a four-star read until I hit the last hundred and fifty pages or so. By then, the momentum had almost completely died down, and I found myself wanting to finish this tome rather than wanting to know what happens next. Unlike The Diviners, I wasn’t hanging on to each and every word, and that’s exactly what makes this an under-whelming sequel. The Diviners sucked me in, and this one simply failed to do that. Nonetheless, this a series I would recommend to everyone because it is dense, masterfully written and a unique take on YA historical fiction.