The King of Crows: The Diviners, Book 4

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The King of Crows: The Diviners, Book 4 Book Poster Image
Epic finale to enthralling '20s-set paranormal series.

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Educational Value

This series is full of historically accurate details about life in America in the Roaring Twenties. Bray's series is meticulously researched (there's a long author's note) and full of historical references: popular culture (jazz clubs like the Cotton Club, the Harlem Renaissance, the "Chitlin' Circuit," radio shows, Ziegfeld Follies, the World's Fair), cultural and immigration issues (one character is half-Chinese, half-Irish and lives in Chinatown; another is a Yiddish-speaking Russian Jew with an anglicized name), the polio epidemic, pervasive racism, xenophobia, America First, and anti-Semitism. The slang ("horsefeathers," "bees knees," "applesauce"), the clothes, the description of New York City neighborhoods is based on historical fact, so except for the supernatural elements, this is very much a historically accurate, educational novel. This installment also features information about other states and parts of the country and world, like the Great Mississippi Flood and even Hitler's famous Nuremberg Rally.

Positive Messages

This series finale continues to focus on positive messages about identity, friendship, tolerance, and teamwork. No matter your background, everyone has various strengths, talents, and weaknesses. No matter your culture, religion,or social status, you can bond over defeating a common enemy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Diviners might have supernatural powers, but they are also authentic-seeming young adults dealing with universal issues. Evie, Sam, Jericho, Ling, Memphis, Theta, Henry, and young Isaiah are flawed but courageous, caring, and clever, learning to trust one another despite their many differences. They are also incredibly diverse: Henry and Ling are LGBTQ, and Ling is also of half-Chinese, half-Irish descent and has polio. Memphis and Isaiah are African American. Theta's a young domestic-abuse survivor of unknown descent. Sam's Jewish and speaks Yiddish and Russian. The main characters come from different cultural, religious backgrounds and experiences, and they each learn about the challenges the others face.

Violence

Mass death and destruction is caused by the army of the undead as well as trained killers among the living (government agents assassinate lots of people they consider subversive). Several key characters die, a couple of them voluntarily, but (most of) the deaths are heartbreaking and upsetting. People are consumed by the undead who are ravenous for the living. The resurrected army kills its way through entire towns, leaving behind "ghost towns." The KKK comes with shotguns to terrorize and threaten Black characters and citizens.

Sex

Three different couples have sex (in one case, it's the guy's first time), but the descriptions are all "fade to black," poetic, or focus on the emotions/feelings. One character would now be called asexual, as she desires hugging, kissing, and emotional intimacy but not actual sex. A 15-year-old girl shows a younger boy how to kiss one time, but he doesn't like it. She explains she is preparing for her "gentlemen caller," and she makes her rag dolls kiss.

Language

Infrequent use of "s--t," "damn," "goddamn," "bitch," and "Jesus!" One use of "f---ing." African Americans are called "Negroes," "coloreds," "boy," as was common in the '20s.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

More jokes about wanting to drink than actual drinking in this installment, although folks drink at secret clubs. Adults are known to smoke cigarettes and cigars.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The King of Crows is the fourth and final installment in Libba Bray's best-selling series, which started with 2012's The Diviners and continued with Lair of Dreams and Before the Devil Breaks You. This installment continues to follow the life-and-death journey of the young "Diviners" who finally have a plan to track down the ultimate supernatural Big Bad of the story, while avoiding both federal agents and the multimillionaire villain trying to capture them. There's quite a bit of violence and death in this final book, with a couple of deaths knocking the wind out of readers. An army of the undead destroys entire towns, and many major characters are seriously injured, incapacitated, or mortally wounded. The book's characters hail from several racial and ethnic heritages, sexual orientations, religions, and geographic backgrounds. Not only does this book promote tolerance, inclusion, and diversity, but it teaches a lot about history, who writes it, and how it's interpreted.

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What's the story?

THE KING OF CROWS picks up immediately after the events of Before the Devil Breaks You, following the entire crew of Diviners: object-reader Evie; Sam, who has powers of persuasion and invisibility; fire-starter dancer Theta; poet and musician Memphis; his clairvoyant little brother Isaiah; lucid dreamers Henry and Ling; and superstrong, genetically modified Jericho. Sam is kidnapped by agents working with Jake Marlowe to track down Diviners. Characters are killed and the Diviners are blamed, so Marlowe convinces now-skeptical New Yorkers to consider the Diviners dangerous, offering a reward for their capture. The Diviners are forced to separate and go on the run, but they plan to meet up in the Midwest, where a young teen who has spoken to Isaiah in visions says she knows how to defeat the titular King of Crows. Along the way, the three groups of Diviners encounter various obstacles, including the Great Flood of 1927, the KKK, a nationwide manhunt for them, and the King of Crows' army of ravenous undead.

Is it any good?

Libba Bray's sprawling finale in her decade-long Diviners saga is a massive epic full of emotional highs and lows, and a thought-provoking look at 1920s America. Readers shouldn't even think of picking it up until they've re-read 2017's Before the Devil Breaks You (or at last  read a review or summary); it dives right in and goes nonstop for more than 500 pages. So much happens in each of the three subgroups (Sam, Evie, Theta, and Isaiah join the circus!; Henry, Bill, and Memphis catch ride on a Southbound train thanks to the Pullman porters; and Jericho and Ling join Alma on the Chitlin Circuit of African American entertainment venues), it's hard to believe the series will wrap up in the final act. But somehow Bray manages to delve into each character's arc and move the story forward to its propulsive end.

Be warned, reader, for you will need tissues. You don't need to be a Diviner to know there are sad times in store for some of our favorite characters. Bray isn't as brutal as George R.R. Martin, but let's just compare this to the Deathly Hallows in the sense that in a war for the future of humanity, not everyone gets a happily ever after. They do, however, each experience happiness, love (whether it's romantic, familial, or both), and, most of all, the unbreakable bond of friendship. This series has always promoted the idea that learning to befriend, trust, and love others who don't look like us, talk like us, or even believe like us is a beautiful, magical, and necessary part of life. In essence, America is made better by people of all backgrounds, heritages, and faiths. That's a reminder we could all use, no matter the decade.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the many history lessons in The King of Crows. What did you learn about the 1920s, New York City, and other parts of America?

  • What do you think of multiple-point-of-view narratives? Why does the author focus on some characters more than others in certain installments in the series? Does the narration feel more evenly spread out in this book?

  • This series features an incredibly diverse cast of characters (LGBTQ, disabled, religious, and racial/ethnic minorities). What did you learn about the history of these disenfranchised groups from the books? How is it relevant to today and how we treat those who aren't like us?

  • What did you think about the end of the series? Was the epilogue everything you hoped? Are the characters where and with whom you wanted?

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