Book Review: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

Ahh. I wanted this to be SO GOOD. And it had its moments here and there, but it also had huge swaths where nothing really seemed to happen. This book really felt like it fell into that middle-volume trap. It felt like the story actually got going about a hundred and fifty pages before the book ended.

What didn’t I like?
1. The deliciously creepy and evocative atmosphere of the first two books is not here. There are moments – especially towards the end – where you can see the ghost (GHOST! Get it? Haha.*please like me*) of what could have been, but that’s it. The enemy never feels really solidified, like with Naughty John or the Sleeping Sickness. It’s just ghosts, but… lots of them. *emotionless voice* Oh no??
2. Going from the enemy never really feels solidified… Where’s the plot, friends? I know it’s something to do with the aforementioned ghosts, but more this time, but most of the book feels pretty aimless. There’s a good chunk that feels like the Diviners half-heartedly playing Ghostbusters. But everything is so easy. There’s no real tension.
3. The individual characters’ arcs also felt underdeveloped. It felt like going to a bad tapas bar. You taste enough to see that there could be something good, but then the food is gone and you don’t get any more. The first two books really zoomed in on the stories of certain characters (Evie, then Henry and Ling), letting the other characters take a bit of a backseat, and it WORKED. In BtDBY, it’s too unfocused.
4. Jericho. *sighs* I do not care about Jericho. I do not understand why Libba Bray thinks I should. He is boring and has never shown any hint of something resembling personality. He is the human equivalent of puffed rice cakes: flavourless and bland. We keep being told that Evie is just so *into* him, but she rarely shares a scene with him, and, when she does, it’s just the two of them awkwardly not knowing what to talk about. Please. No more Jericho.

What did I like?
1. The real-life parallels with how hateful and divisive people are being, and the idea of the United States being literally haunted by the ghosts of the peoples it has wronged. That’s smart, and there were a few passages touching on that that really hit home. The contrasting of Mabel’s leftist anarchist friends to the divisive vitriol was really interesting, as well.
2. Theta’s whole deal with someone from her past returning. Libba Bray is really good at peeling back our romanticized vision of the twenties to expose the nastiness of the era, and this whole storyline was great at that. Too bad it took what felt like forever to actually get started.
3. Just Mabel. She really came into her own in this book. Mabel Rose for president!
4. The last hundred and fifty pages where things started happening. I actually started flipping pages! I didn’t want to put it down! It finally introduced real stakes AND THEN IT MADE ME FEEL THINGS! Oh, Lord, things HAPPENED!
Okay, maybe that’s a little biting. It was really well-written and action-packed, and had a scene that gave me a few foreboding chills. There wasn’t that creepy atmosphere, but it was smart and action-packed, and the characters suddenly felt engaging.
4. Sam. I like Sam, okay? He gets all the good lines.

I love this series. I do. But, for the most part, this book just felt like filler before the finale. That horror vibe was gone, and the characters and plot felt like they were just stuck on cruise control, despite a strong ending and a few good moments sprinkled here and there throughout the middle. I really hope we get a great book four because, after this lackluster volume, I’ve got a few niggling little doubts. Still highly recommend the first two books, though.

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One thought on “Book Review: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Fall Books | Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts

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