One of the biggest problems about getting invested in a book series is having to wait. You’re dying to know what happens next and you desperately check Goodreads to see if the publication date for the next book gets updated. Then, finally, publication day arrives. You get the book, tear through it, and repeat the process all over again. Such was the case when I read Before the Devil Breaks You, the third and newest installment of Libba Bray’s Diviners series. At a whopping 552 pages, it’s much thicker than most YA books I’ve read lately, but that only made me rub my hands together like a fly. The more time I could spend with this new book before having to play the waiting game for the next one, the better.
This book was very well worth the wait. The series centers around Evie O’Neal, a teenager in 1920’s New York, with the power to glean the past from objects she touches. Her friends also have powers of their own and together they form a group called the Diviners, who find themselves battling sinister paranormal activity throughout the city, as well as an enigmatic entity known as the King of Crows. And, since it’s the ‘20s, they also have to grapple with Prohibition, social unrest, and the aftermath of World War I. Mixed all together, Bray’s readers are presented with plenty of fun, angst, romance, and chills.
I’ve always loved the way Bray writes ghost scenes. Her characters’ fears are tangible, but the evildoers’ motivations are always made clear. Yes, they’re ghosts and they’re causing harm to our beloved characters, but they’re not wreaking havoc just for the fun of it. The ghosts that roam New York City in this book are being roused by the King of Crows and they want revenge for being forgotten. This is where the book really stood out to me. Although Before the Devil Breaks You is a fantasy novel, the historical details are on point. Bray doesn’t hesitate to dig deep into American history, which makes the book even scarier. The book is set in 1927, and while there are plenty of flappers, speakeasies, and jazz, Bray also touches on racism, the deplorable treatment of the mentally ill, and the eugenics movement that was very real. In between ghost hunts, power practice, and love scenes, Bray asks her readers to consider problems that are still relevant in our society. What happens to men when they are told they are entitled to the world? What becomes of the people considered unsavory, undesirable, or too different? How can we strive for drastic change while still remaining true to our own morals?
The stakes are high for the ragtag team of Diviners in their third adventure, but Bray never leaves her readers feeling hopeless. While there are some truly heartbreaking moments and nail-biting cliffhangers, it’s reassuring to know the Diviners always have each other’s backs. Libba Bray has made me cry many times (Going Bovine, The Sweet Far Thing, and the time I met her in person and cried in the bathroom afterwards), but most of all she reminds me that compassion and kindness can change the world, and that the power of storytelling is far greater than any silence.