Review: Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray


4 out of 5 Dreamy Stars

I have to admit I didn’t like this as much as the first book in the series. But it was still pretty damn good. It took me like 7 days to read where the first one I read in two.

Bray continues her incredibly layered, historical, sweeping, epic (insert more adjectives here) New York story into the land of dreams. She brings in more of the diverse history of New York and America into it. We begin in a tunnel, where excavation spreads beneath the city to make the arteries that move the lifeblood of the city from uptown to downtown. Something is discovered. Something is woken up… and soon, everyone is falling asleep and not waking. The workers were Chinese, people who had immigrated to the new world for a better life and carved out their own part of the city. Sadly, the racism and xenophobia we experience today was just as rife then as now. The sickness is quickly called the Chinese Sleeping Sickness. There are quarantines, even raids. The authorities are looking for the source and trying to lay blame. The sickness starts to spread, but the establishment is looking in all the wrong places for the cause.

Meanwhile, Evie, our plucky flapper, is living the high life. Thwarting Will’s attempts to send her home, she exposed her Diviner power to the press and has a radio show as The Sweetheart Seer, where she reads the objects of a willing audience. Diviner’s have caught the imagination of the public and their stories are everywhere. It’s all parties, hotels, furs, gin and more gin. She and Will are not speaking and her friends are starting to find her new elocution lessons grating. But really, I felt like her storyline took a back seat. Again, another main character whose focus in the story seems to be her romantic relationships.

The real main characters of this were Henry and Ling Chan. They’re both dream walkers who thought they were the only ones. Henry was one of my favorites in the last book, and I felt like he didn’t get enough page time. His story is the main one here. He’s using his dream ability to try and find a former lover, Louis, who he lost touch with as a young man. I love this part of the story. He hopes to reconnect with Louis in dreams and tell him where he really is so they can find each other. He wanders into a dream and meets Ling Chan. She’s a young woman of mixed heritage from Chinatown – her mother is Irish and her father is Chinese, both of them immigrants. At the time, mixed couples were horribly treated, but that is not the focus of the family dynamic. I loved Ling’s family and thought they were displayed complexly and so relatable.

Ling is special – in many ways. She can find the dead in her dreams and speak to them, only for a few moments, and pass the information on to people who pay her for this service. I really liked her a lot – she’s blunt, won’t suffer bullshit, tough, but not a rebel. She loves her family and is a “dutiful” daughter, but no walking carpet. I liked that mix – we see a girl with backbone that doesn’t try and defy everyone and everything. Being a heroine in a novel doesn’t mean you have to have daddy or mommy issues. She also suffered infantile paralysis (sound familiar? This is what Jericho suffered from before Marlow entered his life.) Now her legs are atrophied and she has to wear braces. Together, she and Henry find a strange dream world and meet another dreamwalker named Wai-Mae She’s coming to America for a new life and husband, but Ling is worried. Some things Wai-Mae tell her sound too good to be true, and she’s afraid the America  waiting for her friend isn’t the one she’s expecting.

There is also the creepy dynamic of Blind Bill, Isaiah and Memphis going on. We know now that Blind Bill is not the harmless hobo that he portrays. He has now wormed his way into Aunt Octavia’s home, where he has access to Isaiah. We know that his motives are not good. Memphis was one of my other favorite characters in the last one, and I have the same complaint for this one. He is dynamic, interesting, has a good arc going on, but he seems to disappear for a giant chunk. I know Bray is stretching this epic story over several books, but I feel like I’m being teased with Memphis. He has a much bigger and more interesting role in this one, but the thing between himself, that bastard, Blind Bill and Isaiah isn’t really completed in this book either. There is a little more of Theta and Memphis’s relationship. We see how hard it is for them on both sides. They couldn’t even go to white clubs, but when they go into the black clubs, they aren’t welcome, either. They can’t even acknowledge each other in public. It simply was not tolerated. Theta would lose her job and probably never get another one. This causes a lot of strain between them, but also, Theta is still hiding her ability. She’s not the only one.

We may have been misled where Bill was concerned, but you could say the same about Sam. He’s still working at the museum and still after Evie, but he’s not the scumbag we thought he was. He and Jericho may not be best buds but they seem to have found a working relationship. Without Evie’s help, the museum has slid back into obscurity and debt and they are still in danger of losing it. Jericho and Sam want to do a Diviner’s exhibit to get some money, and they want Evie, the Sweetheart Seer and her press cache to bring in the patrons. They start researching the stuff in the museum and sniffing around its nooks and corners, and start finding out more stuff, both about Will and Project Buffalo. We know that Sam is in the museum for more than just the job: he knows Will was involved in this mysterious project that took his mother. Sam’s poking around has drawn the attention of others also interested in the project… and a danger to the Diviners. And still, the sleeping sickness spreads and begins to endanger our dreamwalkers.

My only complaint is that this was a little long and drawn out. It takes forever for our heroes to start piecing together all the bits. It was still a wonderful book, and I am very excited for the next one. I don’t even feel like I touched on all the main points. I hardly mentioned Jericho, Jake Marlowe and Mabel. The man in the stovepipe hat is a constant threat in the background. Everything is being woven together like a giant tapestry.

It’s also a very diverse cast, just like the last book. Of all the places in America, New York is truly a melting pot. In the last book, we saw the different Eastern European communities and Harlem, but just touched on Chinatown. This book shows Chinatown and its community struggles with racism, the police and even legislation that was passed against them. There are disabled and gay characters. There are Jewish, black, and Chinese characters. I think it’s America in a microcosm, just like New York. I’m really looking forward to the next one.


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