Hell is Empty, or my review of Before the Devil Breaks You

Before the Devil Breaks You

Before the Devil Breaks You (The Diviners #3)

By: Libba Bray

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: October 3rd 2017

Format: Hardcover

New York City.
1927.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.
And the dead are coming…

After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that early claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough of 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 fact-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.

  

I was absolutely determined last year that I was going to read this book, and it was going to be my Halloween Post, and I would have a whole month where I looked at scary stories and Diviners and all that jazz. And then I failed–too many tests, or something else, and I couldn’t manage to get more than 50 pages into the book. It just wasn’t the right time, I guess (I’ve always found with Libba Bray books that I’m very particular about when I read them). But then this year, as October rolled around, I picked up Before the Devil Breaks You, and something clicked–I think I read it in three days, albeit not before bed.

This is the third in a series (if you’d like a recap of The Diviners and Lair of Dreams, look no further than the archives!), and there is a 4th, final book coming at some point. So in a way, like Lair of Dreams, this book is a bridge to a final conclusion book–but for all of that, it’s an extremely strong bridge. We begin where Lair of Dreams left off–with the Diviners and friends united, learning to work together to tackle the ghosts in the world, but also angry at their supposed mentors and desperate for answers as to what, exactly, is causing the ghosts.

I really enjoyed the way that the book layered and built, character-wise. It’s no easy thing to keep an ensemble cast of approximately 8 characters–ALL with POV sections–going and still maintain a coherent book, but Libba Bray really seemed to have perfected it. I loved how Theta was the Diviner who got her redemption/face the past arc this time, and how she finally allowed herself to unwind and let go (and get a little revenge)(TRIGGER WARNING: DOMESTIC ABUSE). But like I said, I love how the book layered and built–how Henry’s explanation of his mother’s mental illness helped Evie identify hers, how Memphis learned to be a little less toxically masculine and saved himself as a result, all of the ways that the Diviners interacted with each other.

The book definitely had some horror elements, enough for me to caution you not to read it before bed,  but aside from some of the gory death scenes (and there are a few), I found myself more fascinated by the ghosts. It’s not hard to imagine the forgotten dead–those who were used and/or discarded by America, buried in shallow graves with no names attached–wanting vengeance, needing recognition, hungering for a nameless something. And to finally come face to face with the Man in the Stovepipe Hat, after three books–that was definitely a bit of horror.

But, in a way that definitely felt apropos of our time, Libba shows again and again that the real horror isn’t the ghosts, it’s the xenophobia, nationalism, racism, patriarchy and white supremacy that ran rampant through American culture then (and, you know, a few other times). As in the earlier books, Libba has a knack of showing off the brilliance of diversity that existed in New York at the time, the melding of cultures that created such an incredible melting pot. But she also shows the elements that threatened it–the kind of people who used religion, or power, or masculinity, or just their whiteness to push down anything and anyone that was in the least bit different. And the enemy here truly is white supremacy, in the form of men who want only the ‘best’ to survive–and by that they mean the white, the wealthy, the male, the whole-bodied, the ones who don’t have mental illnesses, the ones who don’t like people deemed unacceptable–you get the picture. Even more than the ghosts, this was what chilled me and made me feel horrified (especially after a week like we just had).

But despite everything, our heroes stand bloodied but unbowed, ready to face the Man in the Stovepipe Hat (and the white supremacists). The last book in the series doesn’t have a publication date, synopsis or even cover just yet–but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll be worth reading. I mean, if I could magically put the book in my hands right now, I would (and not only so I could read an ending where the white supremacists lose).

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.

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