Before the Devil Breaks You
by Libba Bray
New York City.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.
And the dead are coming…
After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.
With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.
The biggest compliment I can give this book is that it made me cry. This third instalment in The Diviners series hurt me, it made my cold, brittle heart feel feelings, and all I wanted to do when I finished it was lie down in a dark room.
Our mismatched group of friends are finally learning what being Diviners means, which has come at just the right time as they begin to learn they might not be able to trust who they thought they could trust and New York City is slowly being invaded by the dead.
There are so many different story threads in this novel; now that all of the Diviners are together, it’s the first book in the series that feels like it’s about all of them. The Diviners is very much Evie’s book whereas Lair of Dreams feels like Henry and Ling’s book, but Before the Devil Breaks you is very much a novel about all of the Diviners. I love these characters so much, and I’m genuinely gutted that I only have one more novel left with them.
Which leads me to the only real issue I had with this novel: I believe this series was originally going to be six books rather than four, and while I still loved this novel I don’t think the pacing was quite as crisp as it was in the first and second books. Everything happened a little too quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I would have adored it if it had been even longer than it already is, or been split into two books, to give the various storylines even more room to breathe. Like a fine wine.
Funnily enough, though, as much as I loved this novel being about all of the characters, I think Henry and Ling’s friendship is possibly my favourite thing about this series. Henry in general is such a sweetie and one of those incredibly decent people who makes for a wonderful friend, but I love his chemistry with Ling. I also so appreciated Bray including an asexual protagonist in Ling; while I had my suspicions I didn’t expect Ling to spell it out so clearly (without using the term asexual, as this series is set in the 1920s) and it was so refreshing to see that kind of representation on the page.
We finally met the King of Crows in this novel, who gave me severe Dr. Facilier vibes, but what I love most about this series is that our villain isn’t necessarily the real villain of this series. The real villain is the American government (it’s obvious how much Bray has been influenced by American politics over the past few years); the King of Crows is terrifying but we know he can be stopped, but how do you stop an entire country from playing into the harmful stereotypes it was built on?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bray writes the 1920s as they should be written, and her author’s note for this particular novel deserves a Nobel Prize.
I’ll forever be surprised that this series isn’t more hyped. If you haven’t picked it up yet, please, please do. I only have the fourth and final book to reach for now and I’m so nervous – Bray isn’t afraid to hurt her characters – but I can’t wait to see how this series wraps up!