Notes from a Reading Journal

Before the Devil Breaks You” is Book 3 in the 4-part Diviners series by Libba Bray.

There is a lot going on in Book 3! I adore this 1920s paranormal series! Libba Bray acknowledges that at the time she was writing this book, there was a lot going on in America politically, and I think she strikes the perfect balance of writing for entertainment without preaching politically. That’s a hard thing to do, by the way. Having just finished Stephen and Owen King’s “Sleeping Beauties,” even recognized masters get this wrong. There is entertainment, and then there are political pieces masked as entertainment. Ahem. But I digress…  

First, the “fun” elements in the plot of “Before the Devil Breaks You.” The Diviners visit an asylum to hunt ghosts, and there is ghostly activity around Manhattan that might remind the reader of the movie “Ghost-Busters”. I also enjoyed learning the lingo from that time period. The characters say such phrases as: 

         “You jake?”

         “Strictly top-drawer”

         “Baby Vamp”

         “And how!”

         “On the level”

         “Let’s ankle”  

Now on the darker fare. The King of Crows is back with an army of the dead. I’m still trying to figure out what the “Eye” is, but it sounds to be some sort of portal between Earth and another dimension (seemingly the land of the dead or wherever The King of Crows comes from. Hell? Because without question, The King of Crows is a demon). I think the “Eye” is going to be the focus of the last book as far as the Diviners are supposed to find it and destroy it, thus finally closing the entry door of Earth to The King of Crows. I got the impression that it has to do with Marlowe and his quest to discover and conquer another dimension. Marlowe is just about evil personified on Earth!

In the book, we delve deeper into Project Buffalo’s roots inside the Department of Paranormal, a former government agency. This agency’s purpose was to engineer Diviners in the womb, in an attempt to breed a race of super-powered Americans. Just as in the real 1920s Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, which Bray writes in her author’s note, “supported by Harrimans, Carnegies, and Rockefellers.” This story line is absolutely terrifying and evil, and even more so because it is based on reality!

We find out that Evie; Theta; Henry; Sam; Ling; Memphis; and Isaiah were all manufactured to have super powers that were derived by administering Marlowe’s serum to their mothers. The specific power that would develop as a result of administering the serum seems to be something that the agency could not control. 

The portrayal of the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane was inspired by a fictional amalgam of real New York Kirkbride asylums and their cemeteries, such as Ward’s Island; Roosevelt Island; and Hart’s Island. I liked the mention of Nellie Bly’s 1887 “Ten Days in a Mad-House” to demonstrate how investigative journalism led to sweeping reform in the state’s asylums, and led to much better care of the mental ill by the 1920s. However, there were still terrifying things going on, and one of the scariest things was sterilization under the Supreme Court’s 1927 ruling in Buck v. Bell. 

Quotes I Collected in my Reading Journal:

·      Page 12: “When you talk about seeing ghosts, most people assume you’re either crazy or drunk or both.”

·      About writing, from Ling’s perspective. Page 51: “Ling cracked open the notebook, inhaling the scent of good leather and of the possibilities lurking in all those blank pages.”   

·      P. 185: “Before the Devil breaks you, first he will make you love him.”

·      By Memphis, P. 475: “These are our ghosts. They’re here. We’re gonna have to learn to live with them.” And from Ling, “People want to be safe. Not free.”

Other revelations? Two main characters are murdered. We finally find out who Blind Bill Johnson is, and that’s a great story line (There once was a Diviner who could pull life from things…)! Evie and Theta both quit their show-business jobs rather than be forced to be controlled by their bosses, which were very inspiring actions. Shame about Jericho and Evie, though. I’ll leave it at that. I wish that part of the story didn’t have to happen.  — Jamie Whitmer