“Every city is a ghost.”
I have been waiting for this god damn book to come out for three years now, ever since I fell madly in love with The Diviners while reading it on an autumn trip to New York. (Also, if you haven’t read The Diviners, and you have an opportunity to read it around Halloween in NYC, uh, do it, it will be one of the best experiences of your readerly life.) And you know what? Basically the moment I purchased it for the library and had it processed it walked right out the door with one of my favorite readers, and another favorite put a hold on it, so if the three of us nerd farts can’t convince you to go out and read this series, NOTHING will. I mean, it’s people with supernatural powers in a 1920s New York with VERY EVIL THINGS afoot. In Lair of Dreams said evil things are manifesting as a sleeping sickness in which people think they’re having the most bomb ass dream of all time, and then oh shit they end up promising a veiled woman (OMINOUS) to dream with her (DON’T DO THAT, PEOPLE, NOT EVER) and then they’re stuck in the worst nightmares of all time TIL THEY DIE. Cue the roaring twenties ghostbusters and you have the second book in one of my favorite YA series going right now.
Now, if you’re looking for a super fast-paced supernatural thriller, this is not it. It is not a fast read, and it’s just as meandering and dense as the first book (or rather, dense by YA standards, you might not consider it dense if you like Proust or whatever), but I loved every slowly-unfurling exploration of character over its 600+ pages. All of the characters are so distinct, with interesting back stories, interesting present stories, and interesting POTENTIAL stories, and the ways in which they bob and weave in and out of each other’s lives is nothing short of graceful. One of the things that makes Libba Bray one of my favorite YA writers is her ability to create a super diverse ensemble of characters without it ever feeling like she’s a white lady going down a checklist and ticking off token characters to include. Every character is well-rounded and plays into the complex dance of the group effortlessly, and because she writes these super diverse casts of characters it feels like a much more real, much more resonant slice of magical life. She doesn’t shy away from the fucked up stuff that was going on at the time, and she incorporates the ugly byproducts of progress as well as the glamour of the time period. Race, class, sexuality, it’s all in there without ever feeling like a problem novel.
Now, I will say that I didn’t find the central mystery quite as compelling as that scary fuck John Hobbes in The Diviners, but I think that’s in part because I love super occult stuff and actually tend to NOT like dream sequences, like, at all. There are a lot of dream sequences in this, but I think I was able to deal, in part, because most of the dream sequences involved lucid dreaming so it’s not like it was just a long string of kind of boring nonsense. Because on the real, am I the only one who thinks the dreams that end up in books are weirdly sequential and normal? Or do I just have the most bizarre dreams of all time? Like, I had a dream the other night that I opened my mouth to talk and just burped, forever, and that was my dream in totality.
Also, there was one point in which I thought this one dreamscape that gets revisited a whole bunch reminded me a lot of the world that Gemma Doyle et al visit in the wonderful Gemma Doyle books, and then OH MY GOD SHE MAKES A CAMEO. I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU HOW HAPPY THAT MADE ME. I freaking love it when authors leave little secret gifts in their books for their longtime readers so thank you, Libba Bray, for making me emit the quietest, softest squeal of all time from inside my tent. (I didn’t want to disturb my fellow campers, I’m not that rude, even if I do burp for all eternity in my dream world.)
Bottom line: this is a solid follow-up to The Diviners, full of complex characters and evocative, macabre writing, and even a few scares. It’s full of dark examinations of what it is to dream; daydreams, dreams for the future, and hell, just straight up DREAM dreams, and the dangers of becoming unmoored from reality. I am chomping at the bit like a rabid race horse waiting for the next book to come out, which will probably be in approximately 27 years. Hurry, Libba! HURRY. I MEAN IT.
For music here is Dio’s “Dream Evil.”