Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

“But how did you fight an enemy who never fought fair? Didn’t you have to break the rules to win against the Devil?”

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After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that early claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough of lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over, and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.


TW: medical abuse, sterilization, eugenics, CSA, body horror, sexual assault, sex scenes, slavery, Holocaust imagery

And yet again, a bit of a hefty TW list because Before the Devil Breaks You doesn’t shy away at all from showing that the 1920s wasn’t all shining city lights and glitzy parties. It remains one of my favorite things about this series: I don’t enjoy the content in the warnings, but I deeply appreciate that they’re not covered up or swept under the rug as if they didn’t happen. Libba Bray has covered it in her afterwords in each book: the eugenics movement was very real in the 1920s, and for each book, she’s talked about the specific horrors. In Lair of Dreams, she talked about the Chinese Exclusion Act, and in this book, she did have things to say about the medical abuses of the 20s, not to mention things about the political parallels between now and then, ones that are uncomfortably timely. It’s not pretty, but it’s not ignored. It’s faced head-on, as it should be when writing historical fiction, even if it’s got elements of paranormal and fantasy to it.

That said, I think Before the Devil Breaks You is my favorite of the series yet. At long last, Theta gets a stellar arc and a bigger POV, which delighted me. Also, she’s basically a witch, and that’s just made her even more my favorite. I just cannot get enough of Theta Knight. Sam also got more attention, and I actually really, really appreciate him. He’s one of the few bad boys of YA that I really like, mostly because he’s more of a goofball playing at being a bad boy, and because once he integrates into the group, he’s ultimately a lot more of a team player than other bad boys I’ve read about. Plus, I’m so, so excited to see how his arc concerning his mother pans out, because that’s getting to be extremely serious, what with all the Project Buffalo plot lines beginning to fall into place, beginning to cause so much pain.

And oh man. Jericho isn’t my favorite character, but he ended up in the thick of it, and the ending of the book leaves me extremely concerned because the odds aren’t great for him. They’re also not great for Memphis and Isaiah, which has me all knotted up and begging for the fourth book, which doesn’t even have a title yet as far as I know.

Truly, Before the Devil Breaks You is somehow both a wild ride and the calm before the storm. Things are getting so much worse, the plot is getting so much thicker, and yet there is every promise of a massive showdown around the corner, one so big that it overshadows every confrontation so far. It’s a strange balance to strike, but one I’m pleased with, because it allows the reader to see the characters in their darkest hour, as their darkest selves, but to also have some hope for their future, even if it’s a thin hope because everything looks so bleak. If I thought the previous two books made me excited to read on, this one has guaranteed that I’ll be preordering Book Four as soon as I possibly can.

At this point, it’s safe to say that this series is one of my favorites of all time. It’s clever and exciting and filled with twists and drama that I really adore, and I can’t believe there’s only one book left before it all comes to a conclusion. Book Four is going to leave me a mess and I can’t wait.


Have you read Before the Devil Breaks You? If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you think you will? I’d love to hear!

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