After bringing down the supernatural evil, John Hobbes, only to be faced with Uncle Will’s plans to eject her from New York and back to Ohio, Evie makes the decision to share her diviner powers with the world. The resulting fame and fortune provides her with all the independence she ever wanted. She has a radio show on which she demonstrates her object-reading powers and her fame is growing fast.
Meanwhile a mysterious and deadly sleeping sickness is spreading through Chinatown. People go to sleep and never wake up. Mysterious burns spread across victims’ bodies as they slumber, and after a few days, they die.
It’s quite difficult to write an accurate synopsis for Lair of Dreams, the second book in Libba Bray’s Diviners series. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and some who were very visible in the first book play a much smaller role in the latest offering. Jericho and Mabel, Memphis and Isiah, and even to an extent Sam and Evie, are much less central to the narrative of the sequel.
This was not totally okay with me. I fell in love with Evie’s character completely during book one, and her relatively small role in the sequel was something I found frustrating at times. I definitely wanted more from her story than I got.
We spend much of the book with Henry and a new character, Ling. Ling is a dream walker, like Henry. She lives in Chinatown with her Chinese father and her Irish mother. She’s recently recovered from infant paralysis, which has left her having to wear leg braces to walk. When she dream walks her body is as it was before her illness, so dream walking is how she spends a lot of her time. Even dreams however, become tainted when her best friend George falls victim to the sleeping sickness.
This series is the set in 1920s New York, the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act. This act made it pretty much impossible for labour workers from China to travel to America. It was a time in which immigrants were blamed for high levels of unemployment and incidence of racist hate crime was high (I don’t know why I’m even talking about this like it’s past tense behaviour. It is depressing how times don’t change). Chinese immigrants had to carry their visas with them at all times, as the police were big on spot arrests. The rise of the sleeping sickness only serves to make the situation worse, to the point where Ling is often no longer safe on the street.
I really love how well researched this series is. In the first book we were given a sense of the flapper lifestyle as a retaliation against the previous generation. They established themselves in direct conflict with the values they grew up with, because, as they saw it, those values led to the death and destruction of the First World War. In Lair of Dreams, the focus zooms out, away from flappers, to study of the experience first generation immigrant kids have navigating a world hostile to their very existence.
Overall, Libba Bray does a really good job of representing diversity of experience in her characters. From Evie the hedonistic flapper, to Ling the well behaved child of immigrants, to Memphis, numbers runner from Harlem living under his aunt’s restrictive conservatism, points of view within the novel are vastly different. It is refreshing to read a YA novel with such a diverse cast of characters.
Speaking of difference life experiences, watching Ling and Henry’s friendship develop was one of the greatest joys of the novel. I’m talking about Henry the wannabe musician who plays piano at raunchy dance shows. Henry, who has been searching in dreams for his long lost boyfriend, Louis. Ling and Henry’s bond is unlikely to say the least. Ling isn’t interested in Henry’s humour and she doesn’t approve of the flapper lifestyle he leads or the recklessness that comes along with it. Watching Henry work his way under Ling’s skin is a lot of fun. However, I did find that the very long dream walking sections of the book began to drag. It took a long time for the Ling/Henry storyline to meet up with the sleeping sickness thread, and during some chapters I found myself wondering what exactly the point of their meetings were.
I hate saying this because of how much I loved the first book, but for much of Lair of Dreams I found myself wondering when the action was going to start. There are so many characters in the world now and each of their stories took time to build to the point that by the end of the book, most had hardly achieved anything. I know that it’s a series, and presumably as such all my questions will at some point be answered, but Libba Bray began a lot of threads in this book that by the end hadn’t really gone anywhere.
That said, Lair of Dreams kept and even expanded on many of the elements that made me fall in love with the series in the first place. I remain quietly hopeful about the next book in the series.