Libba Bray’s astonishing and terrifying Diviners are back, this time in the third go-round of her four-book bestselling series that marries the paranormal with the historical. Taking place in 1920s New York City, Before the Devil Breaks You sees the Diviners pitted against a brand new malevolent force—ghosts, with mysterious and dangerous links to the Man in the Stovetop Hat. Set in a pair of chilling mental asylums on Randall’s and Ward’s Islands, the Diviners must band together to stop the flurry of evil that’s rising from all over the city, and stop the King of Crows once and for all.
In anticipation of the October 3rd release of Before The Devil Breaks You, EW is pleased to exclusively reveal the book’s cover along with the following excerpt.
Excerpt from Before The Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray
The first time Margaret Andrews Walker had seen an actual Diviner at work, she was thirteen years old and helping her mother nurse the sick at the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School in Philadelphia. On Sundays after church, Margaret’s mother had her come and read to the patients. An elderly woman named Lavinia Cooper had been brought in, weak and short of breath. In Mrs. Cooper’s hometown, there had been no colored hospital, and the white hospitals wouldn’t admit her. By the time she’d been brought to Frederick Douglass, her chest cold had progressed to pneumonia.
When Lavinia began to recover, word spread along the ward that she could talk to the spirits and deliver prophecy. Already, she’d saved the life of one of the young doctors. On a rainy night, she warned him not to take his usual route home—“I can see that road washed clean away.” Sure enough, a flash flood swept up four people on that very road the doctor would’ve traveled. A day later, Lavinia had clasped the hands of a young nurse, and with her eyes staring straight up to the ceiling, announced that the nurse was pregnant days before it was confirmed. Whispers circulated: Lavinia Cooper had the sight. She was a spirit-talker. One of the cunning folk. What the old timers called a Diviner.
Margaret was not an impressionable child. As far as she was concerned, doctors and nurses couldn’t afford to believe in that sort of superstitious nonsense. She found the Cooper woman highly suspicious and did her best to avoid her.
“You are not here to serve yourself, Margaret Andrews Walker,” her mother had scolded, swatting her across the bottom even though Margaret was already ten. “You are here to serve the sick and the needy. Now, please make yourself useful and go read to Mrs. Cooper.”
Scowling, Margaret had sat in the chair furthest from the woman’s bed, nursing her wounded dignity as she read aloud from Little Women.
“Come close, child,” Mrs. Cooper bade in a voice made scratchy from coughing.
Margaret dragged her chair nearer to the old woman’s bedside.
“Your grandmother’s here. She want me to tell you something.”
“My grandmother passed on last spring,” Margaret said matter-of-factly.
“Uh-huh, I know. But she’s here with us now, in this very room.”
“My grandmother is dead, Mrs. Cooper.”
“You don’t believe in spirits? Don’t believe in your ancestors, all your past kin?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t,” Margaret said.
“Mmmm. Well. They surely do believe in you.” Mrs. Cooper looked up at the ceiling, and Margaret had the distinct impression that the old woman was speaking to someone else. “Yes. Yes, alright, then. Your grandmother and me having a chat. She say she got a special name for you. Now. What might that name be?”
Margaret decided to test Mrs. Cooper. “Lil Bit,” she lied.
“Lil Bit? Lil Bit, is it? All right. Lil Bit.”
Margaret’s anger spread with Lavinia Cooper’s satisfied smile. Grandmother Walker had been young Margaret’s favorite person in the whole world, and her passing had nearly broken Margaret’s heart. How dare this woman, this stranger, trespass on that sacred memory!
The old woman managed a feathery laugh between wheezes. “Your gran say you best quit lying ‘fore she has to reach out from the grave and give you a slap like she did that time you put your cousin Dee in the attic for tattling. A bat got in there, and Dee screamed so loud it made a vase fall off the end of your gran’s sideboard. The vase had been a wedding present from your Granddaddy Moses, and when your gran come in from putting the canning up in the basement, she let Dee out and gave you a proper whupping. Even made you break off your own switch. Your gran never called you no Lil Bit. She called you ‘Sister’ on account of how you boss everybody ‘round just like you was in charge.”
That night, Sister Walker had lain awake. Only she and her grandmother knew that story. It had been their secret. That moment with Lavinia Cooper had been the start of Sister Walker’s conversion to belief in the supernatural world. She wanted to ask Mrs. Cooper all sorts of questions: What was this power? Where was her grandmother now? How many other Diviners were out there? But when she’d returned to Frederick Douglass two days later, Little Women in hand, the bed had been stripped. Mrs. Cooper was gone. The pneumonia had weakened her heart, and she’d died peacefully in her sleep.
Margaret “Sister” Walker read everything she could find about Diviners. It was an obsession that had seen her through medical training at Howard University. It had been noted by a professor who in turn had recommended her for a job at the newly created U.S. Department of Paranormal where she would meet the only other person who shared her devotion, Will Fitzgerald. They’d made a formidable team: Will was scholarly but impulsive, too trusting and given to romantic ideals; Margaret, whose life hadn’t allowed her the privilege of romantic ideals as a birthright, was forthright and wary, organized and patient.
And when the eugenicists argued that her people were inferior by design, Margaret Walker meant to prove them wrong. After all, Lavinia Cooper was a Diviner, an exceptional person. And that exceptional person was black, like her. If she found more people like that, she could prove those eugenicists and their pseudoscience wrong. She would combat prejudice with real science. With fact and study and documentation. If there truly was a golden age coming in America, if the land of opportunity was at hand, she would make sure that her people weren’t left out of it.
And when presented with the perfect chance to make sure of that, she took it. She even went to prison for it. What would she be willing to do now? Sister Walker tapped her fingers on top of the file she’d saved. It held everything about Memphis and Isaiah: The records of Viola’s pregnancy. The monitoring. Dates. Addresses. Names of family. There were newspaper articles about the boy healer up in Harlem. It was foolish to keep them, she supposed. But it was a record. It was a witness to what they’d done. She’d seen how easy it was for her word to be dismissed. A person needed evidence. And sometimes, even that wasn’t enough. Sister Walker closed the files back up in the cubby and blocked it with the painting of Paris, a city she’d always longed to visit, the city where Josephine Baker and Ada “Bricktop” Smith had found themselves.
A wracking cough rumbled through Sister Walker’s lungs, a souvenir of the war and her time in that damp prison. She placed a lozenge under her tongue and waited for the spasm to subside.
There’d been one thing that Lavinia Cooper had said to Margaret that fateful night that had stuck with her for all these years. Margaret had thought that Lavinia was sleeping. But as she bent closer to the old woman, Lavinia took hold of Margaret’s wrist. Lavinia’s eyes were wide and frightened.
“I see you. You and your friends. You mustn’t let him in, child!”
Margaret’s wrist hurt. “Let who in?”
Lavinia shook with the force of her vision. “Before the Devil breaks you, first, he will make you love him. Beware, Little Sister. Beware the King of Crows!”
Margaret hadn’t understood then.
She understood now. And she was afraid.