Before the Devil Breaks You – Review

Before the Devil Breaks You is the third book in the Diviners series by Libba Bray and it is exquisite. The story takes us to 1920s New York following psychics and talented individuals as their story progresses. Our Diviners become the central focus and take us on a journey into the unknown of ghosts and the occult. 

This book was phenomenal.

It built on the relationships, power and drama. We finally got those revelations we were waiting for and excellent character development.  My favourite pieces of the novel were between Evie and Sam. I adored the humour, the banter; the angst. The last hundred pages had me frigid on the outside, but on the inside I was devastated. This is my favourite quote from the book:

“All the times I say, ‘Don’t see me’? With you, I wish I had an opposite power: See me. See me, Evie. See all of me. There’s a fella who loves you right here. I’m not perfect. I’m a handful. But you know what? So are you. There. Not sugar coating it.”

Sam Lloyd

My favourite pages were 271, 279, 312, 477, 517. These moments hurt me. The first two books set up to get us here and it did not disappoint. We’ve got mystery, angst and romance. It’s everything. This narration perfectly encapsulates the moral message of the book, especially relevant to history and the white narrative painted across textbooks and the internet alike. Its important to read widely and so I’ll definitely be seeking out stories to learn more about the world, cultures and languages. Its important to remember history and the true narratives of those lives lost because of injustices in the past and present. I absolutely adored the fact the Diviners are a cast of people from all different groups because we get to see the diverse opinions. The fact they’ve all come from very different experiences and backgrounds and they still share the same moral values is significant. Instead of abusing their powers and knowledge, they’re actively using it to help people.

We are a country built by immigrants, dreams, daring, and opportunity.

We are a country built by the horrors of slavery and genocide, the injustice of racism and exclusion. These realities exist side by side. It is our past and present. The future is unwritten.

This is a book about ghosts.

For we live in a haunted house.”

Libba Bray

Politics and race are a bigger topic in this book than you might think. Race, identity, sexual orientation and politics are a significant part of this story. Within our main cast, the varied identities of modern America are explored:

  • Evie O’Neill – a woman on the rise of fame with her own show where she reads objects for the entertainment of her audience. Travelling to New York, Evie leaves behind her small town life and joins her Uncle’s spooky Museum of artefacts and history, meeting all sorts of people. The first being, Sam Lloyd who pickpockets her.
  • Sam Lloyd – a Russian-Jewish boy, pick-pocket with enough wit to entice and charm. Searching for his missing Mother, Sam is an enigma until we get a closer look into his motives and past. Sam uses humour and wit as a defence mechanism, not especially apt at professing his feelings.
  • Jericho Jones – a philosophical bookworm and logical character. Jericho works with Evie’s Uncle Will at the  “Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult”. Devoted and loyal is what I’d describe Jericho as, but he’s also hiding his own secrets, as everyone does.
  • Henry Dubois – a songwriter with dreams to go on Broadway and have his songs on the radio. Kind and compassionate, Henry and Theta maintain one of the best friendships in the series as they look out for each other, both at the Club they work at and off-the-clock. Henry blames his father for his mother’s health declining and after finding Henry with a boy, his father disowns him.
  • Theta Knight – a Creole orphan with dreams of being bigger than life. She dreams of acting and making something with her life. Theta doesn’t remember her childhood and she’s never had a family, as she was dropped on the steps of the Church.
  • Memphis Campbell – a black poet with the power to heal. After his mother’s passing, Memphis feels a sense of guilt choking him as he struggles to move on and take care of his brother. In this big city, black folk are treated as lesser citizens, despite the false faces folks display. Although many like Papa Charles have made their way up into society, its evident that making your way in this city is only achievable if your a white man with money.
  • Isaiah Campbell – Memphis’ younger brother. I wish all the hopes and good dreams for this child because he gets the short end of the stick. He needs a proper childhood and a safe one at that. There are too many nefarious figures lurking around New York right now.
  • Ling Chan – a scientist first and foremost; half-Chinese, half-Irish and asexual. She is also a disabled character, but within her dreams is where she walks and talks to ghosts and the dead.
  • Mabel Rose – its known by many that Mabel’s parents are activists for worker’s rights. With the war in the breeze, America’s intimidation of Communist Russia and ‘Reds’ is not a good category to be associated with.

I’d definitely say I’ve become attached to these characters at this stage. The sweet part is these lost and trauma-ridden characters find some form of stability and relation in this found family. I adore how their personalities clash and come together as the past & present merge to culminate a complete story. Before the Devil Breaks You will be on my list for the top books of my reading year. Up next, King of Crows.

A Wandering Reader 

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