Title: Before the Devil Breaks You
Author: Libba Bray
Page count: 546
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fic
Average Goodreads rating: 4.28
My star rating: 4
In my current ranking of the series, Before the Devil Breaks You comes in third place with The Diviners sitting in second and Lair of Dreams coming in on top. I didn’t dislike this one by any means it just wasn’t as strong as the previous two books.
Such a shame, pal
A lot of reviewers say that this is their favourite Diviners book because it includes a creepy asylum at the heart of the story which I was very excited for. Unfortunately, we don’t spend nearly enough time there to justify calling this an ‘asylum book’. The story starts off strong with a great scene set at the asylum but as the book goes on you learn that it isn’t central to the plot.
What was more present was the focus on political radicalism – specifically socialism – in the face of capitalism and the widening poverty gap in America. Despite the greatest effort from the author, this was often heavy-handed and I felt that Libba Bray was coming through too strongly which took me out of the story.
Overall, the King of Crows central narrative arc is developed in this book – much is revealed and secrets are uncovered (some of which I guessed) which is satisfying and keeps you interested. Beware, it is a bit frustrating at points though as the Diviners often struggle to connect the dots quickly enough but it does eventually culminate in an explosive ending which was both shocking and emotional.
You’re the berries!
My favourite thing about this book is that all of the characters are together for most of it. There’s even a brilliant scene in chapter two where all of the Diviners come together in one room to discuss what they’re going to do next and it felt very ‘Avengers assemble’ which was brilliant.
You also get to know all the characters on a deeper level including their feelings for each other and their motivations within the story. It becomes much more about their ‘found family’ as they finally get to spend more time together – this is one my all time favourite tropes so I was super happy about that.
Like with the previous two books Libba Bray moved the lens to focus on another set of characters – in this instance Theta and Mabel. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as interested because Ling and Henry continue to be my favourites with Sam as a close third.
The author also includes the discussion of poor mental health especially depression and alcoholism within this group of characters. This is refreshing to see in a fantasy series and is made even more interesting by the context of the time.
Sprinkle of magic
We learn so much more about the magic and Diviner power systems. We get to see more magic in action and more diviner power in action – especially what happens when they all work together.
The author also does a great job of unpacking the prejudice that these characters face once their powers become public knowledge – showing just how quickly the tide can turn once the media get involved. A side note here is that a big theme running through this series is the power of the emerging American media in influencing opinion and creating celebrity.
As I said in my review of Lair of Dreams this series comes with many trigger warnings and this book is no different. Libba Bray looks directly and unflinchingly at the idea of Americanness and the impact on the people trying to traverse it. Triggers include: depression/alcoholism, attempted rape, domestic abuse/sexual assault, racism, death, ableism, homophobia, and xenophobia.
Some of these triggers are very blunt and on-page so it’s worth keeping these in mind ahead of reading.
Overall, I did really like this instalment in the series. We learned so much and got even closer to the characters which only deepened my connection to the story. Unfortunately the plot, in my opinion, wasn’t as strong and convincing as The Diviners and Lair of Dreams hence the lower rating.
Have you started reading this series? What did you think of Before the Devil Breaks You?