Read a full summary of Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray now! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in Before the Devil Breaks You, then you are in the right place!
Character and other info
Setting – New York 1920’s
Diviners – people with various supernatural abilities
Evie – The sweetheart seer, can read the past from objects
James – Evie’s deceased brother
Will – Evie’s uncle, owner of the “Museum of Creepy Crawlies”
Mabel – Evie’s friend
Memphis – lives in Harlem, has the ability to heal
Isaiah – Memphis’s younger brother, sees the future
Jericho – works at the museum, has a partially mechanical body
Sam – works at the museum, can tell people not to see him and they won’t
Blind Bill – a homeless man that once could kill with a touch, the gift was was stolen from him
Theta – Performer that lives in Evie’s building, has a fire ability
Henry – Theta’s roommate and coworker, can walk in dreams
Sister Walker – works with Will to find Diviners
Ling – dream walker
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Before the Devil Breaks You?
A fog brings the dead near the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane on Wards Island. Connor and Luther know they are coming, as do many of the other inmates. The woman’s voice in Connor’s head tells him to bear witness. Two night workers are slaughtered.
The Diviners and a few friends meet at the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. The group includes Memphis, Isaiah, Jericho, Sam, Ling, Henry, Evie, Theta, Mabel, Will, and Sister Walker. They gather periodically to try to strengthen the Diviners’ powers. They believe that Liberty Ann’s prophesy of a battle between good and evil is upon them. The Diviners will be needed to fix the crack in the world between this one and a dimension beyond. They will reestablish the balance between the natural and the supernatural. There is another last prophesy from Liberty Ann that was lost. They intend to find this unholy correspondence.
Theta isn’t sure about helping because she doesn’t want anyone to know about her fire powers. Only Sam knows. Theta receives an anonymous note reminding her that she “left him for dead, but somebody knows.”
Sam still believes his mother is alive and that Will and Sister Walker might be keeping something from him since they had something to do with the Buffalo Project (an organization created to recruit Diviners). Sam and Evie are going to keep digging for information.
Even though Memphis told him not to, Isaiah tells Blind Bill that they have been meeting with Sister Walker. Bill siphons more of Isaiah’s powers, causing the boy to seize. Bill is granted sight for a few days and is angry that Memphis continues to lie about his healing power and won’t heal Bill.
Marlow, the powerful businessman with the blue serum that keeps Jericho alive, threatens to cut Jericho off if he doesn’t come along to his Future of America Exhibition.
Mabel agrees to help a woman named Maria find her sister, who was taken while working in a factory. The men wore the Diviner’s symbol. The sister had had visions of Mabel and was worried about her for the trouble to come. Mabel then goes to a meeting of the Secret Six with a man named Arthur. She believes they are being watched.
Evie’s party-girl reputation is in danger of ruining her radio career. Her listeners prefer pure Sara Snow. Evie tries to get a reporter called Woody to set up a meeting with Luther—the man who tried to stab her—so that she can publicly forgive him. Luther is in the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane.
Will has a device that will detect paranormal activity. Marlow invented it. Now Marlow overworks his employees as they mine for uranium twelve hours a day.
Ghost sightings in New York are making the city anxious. Most people, though, write it off as a trick or mental illness.
Sam discovers that he can turn himself completely invisible.
Evie believes that her deceased brother James is trying to communicate with her.
Sister Walker shares that years ago, she (as part of the Buffalo Project) gathered and tested Diviners, but the war shut them down, and their files were lost. They don’t know how to find those Diviners. She says there was once a man who could draw the life out of things. But he disappeared.
Evie and Jericho finally decide to date. Mabel is hurt by this and continues to go to meetings with the Secret Six, where she gets to see Arthur and feel like she’s doing something useful. Her parents believe the Secret Six is behind much of the violence against foreign workers.
Luther (the former soldier who tried to shoot Evie) says, “We were the one-four-four. They never should have done it.” 144 is the number of cards Evie and Sam found in the old department of Paranormal. It’s also a number about which Isaiah dreams.
The ghosts enter the asylum again, and another nurse dies. Though Conner was not in the room, he draws it all.
Theta lands a job as an actress for Vitagraph.
Mabel and the Six make a video of the poor conditions at the labor camps and show it at a theater. The newspapers barely talk about it, however, but Marlow’s men rough up the people at the work camp. Arthur, who Mabel learns was once in jail for killing someone while trying to enact change, plans to bomb the mines so that Marlow can’t hire new people to work in them.
Mabel has a disagreement with her parents about her involvement with Arthur and his group.
Memphis learns that they are looking for drawings that liberty Ann created just before she died. Cornelius hid them in his bible. Memphis, Sam, and Jericho begin searching for it. They hunt in the cellar and find some recordings. They hear a young man that they later learn is Blind Bill. The government was experimenting on them.
Sam and Evie find out from Moony Runyon that the Buffalo project had secret agents called Shadow Men. It was funded by some of the richest men in America. The government was making Diviners from pregnant mothers. It didn’t work for all kids and made some babies come out wrong. Moony says Marlow is the only man who might have an electronic reader for the cards they found back in book two.
Papa Charles forces Memphis to heal another gang’s member leaving Memphis drained.
We learn that the old man Blind Bill is really only 37 years old.
The ghost of Mr. Bennington approaches Theta. He tells her that Adelaide Proctor, the witch guarding the Bennington, needs her help. Theta arrives just in time to save Adelaide from her former lover, Elijah. Theta agrees to come by the building to help the Proctor sisters. Adelaide tells Theta to shot being afraid of her power.
The Diviners demand answers from Will and Sister Walker. The two admit to attempting to create a generation of extraordinary Americans with extraordinary powers. They targeted pregnant women and gave them a tonic. Isaiah is proof that the mutation stays in the cells and can affect future children. Will admits to saving Evie’s brother James with the formula when he had Pneumonia as a small child. He was subject zero. Evie was never supposed to get the formula, but her mom took it when she was in utero. After testing 144 subjects, they were shut down and had no way to reach those people again. But they are out there. Sam believes that someone is tracking them down and has his mother.
While emotions are flying, the group learns that together they can form an energy field. Isaiah sees the rip between worlds and learns that he is the Clairvoyant. In a dream-state, a girl tells him that the King of Crows wants them and their gifts. She tells him that they need the boy who draws. His mother’s ghost arrives and tells him to follow the Eye and heal the breach—and to protect Conor Flynn.
Sister Walker first saw a diviner when she was ten years old. Lavinia Cooper could see snippets of the future. She tells Sister Walker that she and her friends mustn’t let the King of Crows in. Before he breaks you, first, he will make you love him. She also had a hidden folder with everything about Memphis in it.
Sam and Evie go to Wards Island and sneak in to visit Luther. Luther tells Evie to find James. The Eye has him.
Theta and Evie stage a show resulting in the Diviners being asked back to Wards Island. And during their plotting, Evie has a vision of when Theta’s village burned, and men in suits shot her mother. Her father found her and left her at the orphanage.
Later Theta goes to meet with her mysterious note writer. It’s her abusive husband, Roy, who she thought she had killed in a fire years ago. He tells her they will be together now, and he threatens any man she is with (aka Memphis).
Jericho agrees to travel to Marlow’s estate, Hopeful Harbor, to undergo testing so that he can spy on Marlow and try to learn about Project Buffalo. The experiment makes Jericho feel invincible, but Marlow won’t talk about the project. While snooping in the mansion, Jericho comes across some men with a woman who tells Jericho to tell her sister that she is there. Her name is Anna Provenza.
In the past, Marlow had gotten mixed up in the scientific eradication of inferior human traits. Will disagreed, and they parted ways. It didn’t help that Will stole Marlow’s girl.
The group goes to Wards Island under the pretense of interviewing patients about the ghosts. A storm moves in, and they are all trapped for the night. They meet Connor, who Memphis’s mother’s ghost told them to protect. The woman who speaks to Connor is Miriam. He says they keep her underground where her powers are weak.
Evie goes into Luther’s memories: Luther was a soldier with Evie’s brother James. They were the 144 in the US Army and had just taken Marlow’s serum. Luther had a premonition that something terrible was going to happen and refused to join the experiment. The others held hands and accidentally opened a rip between dimensions. They were sucked into it. Afterward, Luther could hear them screaming. He still can. Luther tells Evie to save them. They are with the King of Crows. “Follow the Eye. Heal the breach,” he says.
The group is split when the fog rolls in, bringing the dead. Some of the patients and staff are possessed. The Diviners finally regroup, and Theta uses her fire power—revealing her secret—to save them. The group decides they need to talk to the ghosts and find out what they want. At first, the ghosts are confused, pulled in different directions, but then they speak their names and their stories. But then the King of Crows pulls them back to him. The Diviners circle up and create a force field that sends them back where they came from. But the King of Crows enters. He wanted to see what the Diviners could do, and now he knows.
The King of Crows takes Connor and kills Luther. He sets the Diviners on a mission to question the ghosts and then expel them from this world in the same way they expelled the ones on the island. They begin their hunt.
It turns out that Will and Sister Walker knew what happened to Evie’s brother. They were part of the original group that let the King of Crows into this world with their experimenting. The Diviners feel they can’t trust the two anymore, and so they part ways.
Theta breaks up with Memphis because she’s afraid of what her ex-husband, Roy, will do to him. She is also fearful of her own powers.
Blind Bill recalls when he was younger and was known as Guillaume Johnson. He made a bargain with the King of Crows to be free of those who enslaved him. He was eventually freed but was blind and (unnaturally) old by that time. He believes Sister Walker betrayed him. The next time Bill tries to take power from Isaiah, the King of Crows pulls him into a dream and threatens him.
Memphis goes to Seraphina, a gang leader, to get information about his mother’s last days. His mother made a bargain with the King of Crows. He would make sure the bad men could not find Memphis and Isaiah, and she would be able to watch over them after death. But Seraphina didn’t know what price she paid for this. She gives Memphis a small leather bag that will keep him connected to his ancestors. Memphis’s mom follows him in the form of a crow and saves him from a group of gangsters.
Seraphina also makes Memphis realize that it is Blind Bill who is causing Isaiah’s seizures. Memphis confronts the old man. They fight, but in the end, Memphis heals Bill’s blindness. He seems to be getting younger also. Bill moves out.
The spirits are turning their backs on Ling. They no longer speak to her in their dreams.
Conor pulls Isaiah into a vision and tells him to find the Eye. Conor can go back and forth between worlds. Through Isaiah, Conor draws the scene.
Jericho finds the card reader with the help of an unknown voice. He gets permission to invite Evie and Ling to Hopeful Harbor.
Mabel tells Evie about being a part of the Secret Six and about Arthur. Evie reads an object of Arthurs without Mabel’s permission, and the two of them have another fight. Evie believes Arthur is into something dangerous.
Everyone is starting to feel unsure about what they are doing to the ghosts.
They gather to dream walk using the drawing that Conor drew through Isaiah. Henry alone is pulled in and sees things through Evie’s brother, James. They think he might be alive because dead men don’t dream. But where is he?
Theta and Adelaide see Elijah in the basement again, but Evie slows him down with her fire. They get away. Miss Lillian tells Theta that Adelaide made a bargain with the King of Crows for Elijah’s life, but he was not returned to her as he was. The King of Crows is greedy and only wants power and to corrupt. Lillian says that Theta can help to stop him from corrupting the good spirits using her fire.
Jericho undergoes a test in a sensory deprivation tank. Marlowe wants him to try to speak to someone in another dimension. He tells Marlowe that he hears, “Open the door again, but this time keep it open. The souls must be refreshed.” Then a woman’s voice directs him to not talk to Marlow anymore. Miriam, Sam’s mom, can speak to Jericho in his mind. She tells him that he must stop Marlowe and get away.
Evie, Ling, Sam, and Henry visit Jericho at Hopeful Harbor. The card reader doesn’t work, but Evie is able to read something from it: they are all dead…all but subject 144. Sam thinks he feels his mother’s presence here.
Evie and Jericho are beginning a romance, but one morning Marlowe gives Jericho the full strength serum, and he thinks only of domination. He assaults Evie. This will later help drive Evie back into Sam’s arms.
Jericho confronts Marlowe for answers. He believes that many of the Diviners are of “less noble stock,” and he’s seeking to purify the serum. The serum that Marlowe gives Jericho is irradiated Diviner blood. Marlow won’t tell who Ann Provenza is or where she is hidden. Jericho swears that he will find her. Marlow is using her to keep the doorway between worlds open. Jericho runs away but sneaks back onto the estate to find Anna. He finds a machine that is The Eye. As he hides, Jericho sees Anna and Miriam being used to open the doorway. Marlowe and his men don’t seem to care that it is painful but are only looking for a message from beyond. Miriam says that the missing soldier’s souls are trapped inside. Miriam tries to warn Marlowe that the man in the hat is tricking him.
Roy takes Theta out on the town, and they end up at the Hotsy Totsy, where Memphis works. Roy is asked to eliminate Memphis because he is healing people in a rival gang. Theta steps in, and ultimately not-so-blind Bill steps in a saves the two of them. Theta admits that she broke up with Memphis to keep him safe. They get back together.
Mabel, Arthur, and the rest of the Secret Six bomb one of Marlowe’s mines so that he couldn’t use and abuse immigrant workers any longer. In retaliation, the militia burns the worker’s camp. Several people, including children, are killed.
Evie has too much to drink and is set up by Sara Snow and Jake Marlow as they try to discredit the Diviners at a public event. After their show-down, ghosts flood the streets. The other Diviners arrive, and the people call for them to do something about it. Memphis sees that these are the ghosts of former slaves and urges the others to listen to them. They do, and the ghosts tell them what they need to know. Marlowe is building a new eye that will keep the door open between worlds forever and allow the King of Crows to stay. He will sow chaos and division. Eventually, the ghosts leave, but the people are unhappy with the Diviners for not blasting them away.
Roy tells Theta’s boss all about her relationship with Memphis and that she is married to him. Her boss demands that she change her friends and her lifestyle in order to keep her job. She is livid and goes to kill Roy, but the other Diviners show up and stop her. Theta doesn’t kill him, but she does quit the Follies.
The Shadow Men kill Papa Charles and burn down the Hotsy Totsy. They also abduct Sam and transport him to Marlowe’s estate.
How does Before the Devil Breaks You end?
The Secret Six plan to murder Jake Marlowe with a bomb at his exhibition. Mabel has second thoughts and goes to stop them. She also learns that Arthur avoided jail time by being a double agent for the government. He’s supposed to hand over the Secret Six.
While at the exhibition, Isaiah has a vision of the explosion and starts screaming that there is a bomb. To get away from police and the eugenics people, Theta starts a fire, and witnesses see her do it.
Mabel confronts Arthur as he’s arming the bomb. Just as she talks him out of doing it, the agent who Arthur has been working for shows up. He shoots his partner agent and prevents Evie and Arthur from disarming the bomb. The bomb goes off, and both Arthur, Mabel, Sara Snow, and many others are killed.
Evie refuses to sign a paper saying that she is not associated with anarchists (which would be like a betrayal to Mabel). She quits her job at the radio station.
Shadow men come looking for Memphis and Isaiah. The two of them run away with Bill Johnson. They go to the museum where Will helps them escape through the city in the old tunnels used during the underground railroad.
As Will is gathering every paper he has on the Buffalo Project to take to a reporter, Shadow Men arrive—Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson. They kill Will and talk of setting the Diviners up for his murder. Margaret (Sister) Walker listens in holding the Buffalo Project papers.
Shadow men tell Miriam that Sam will be joining her, and she warns them that the Diviners’ power has grown too big to control.
Miriam, who can speak to people in their minds, sends out a mental SOS to the Diviners and to the dead. They hear.
At 144 Benedict Road, Bountiful, Nebraska, a girl called Sarah Beth speaks of visions of the future. She says the Diviners are coming and there are ghosts on the road.
Adelaide dreams that she is buried alive by the King of Crows.
Conor—from the other dimension—has a vision that the Diviners have only two paths before them, but he doesn’t know which will happen. The King of Crows demands to know what he sees and when Connor doesn’t tell him, he feeds Connor to the dead. The dead feed all of his energy to the King of Crows.
Marlowe’s machine, the Eye switches on, and they receive a message saying: I’m ready. The time is now.
There you go! That’s what happened in Before the Devil Breaks You. We hope you enjoyed this recap of Before the Devil Breaks You with spoilers.
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