Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

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December 5, 2012 by Heidi

The Diviners by Libba Bray book coverTitle: The Diviners [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Libba Bray [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Book 1 in The Diviners series.
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Horror, Speculative Fiction
Published: September 18th, 2012 by Little Brown BFYR
Format: Hardcover; 592 pages
Source: ARC from publisher.

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.

In the past year and a half I have read every Libba Bray book clinging to the notion that I really ought to love her work, but never having that feeling come to fruition.  The Gemma Doyle series had so many rich and wonderful elements, Going Bovine and Beauty Queens were both outrageous and quirky in a way that is right next door to something I love.  Alas, I have found her characters largely insufferable and the stories to be both attention needy and impetuous.  In the time leading up to The Diviners, I harbored one ardent hope: that Libba Bray would take her limitless creative world building ala Gemma Doyle, marry it with a variety of well-drawn characters ala Beauty Queens, and throw in the unexpected charm of Going Bovine while keeping her somewhat insane mind on a leash to create a book of which I could finally say without any caveats, I loved.  Did she manage it?  Well, pretty darn close, and certainly close enough to make this reader happy.

We are the Diviners.  We have been and we will be.  It is a power that comes from the great energy of the land and its people, a realm shared for a spell, for as long as is needed.  We see the dead.  We speak to restless spirits.  We walk in dreams.  We read meaning from every held thing.  The future unfolds for us like the navigator’s map, showing seas we have yet to travel.

I think that Libba Bray realized somewhere along the road that the characters she adores are really annoying to a lot of other people.  Her solution?  Flood us with a variety of personalities.  As with Beauty Queens, The Diviners plays host to a myriad of characters, all of whom have fascinating (and mostly mysterious) stories–essentially there’s a flavor for every reader.  A decision that can get sloppy and make for shallow character development in other hands works for Libba Bray.  If Evie, the unarguable focus of our story, had been our sole vessel for the tale of The Diviners, I likely would have been banging my head against the wall only 200 pages in.  However, utilizing a variety of very different characters alongside Evie diluted her annoying traits to the point that I could truly enjoy her and her escapades the bulk of the time.  Bray gives us insightful dips into so many minds that we truly begin to understand all of our characters regardless of their exact role in this first installment.  One can only assume that this will continue throughout the series, drawing in some barely mentioned characters and flushing out those we know so that we become deeply invested in each of their fates.

Set in the roaring 20s in New York City, The Diviners focuses a magnifying glass over a time when progress began to sky rocket, leaving all those living to either ride along or get left behind.  It is perhaps the perfect extreme for something we see often today–change happens quickly, and for some too quickly.  In The Diviners, what is simple fun for the flappers is an unholy ticket to hell for the religious.  Playing with the ever-terrifying idea of fanaticism, Libba Bray is able to send chills down our spines as frequently with the more upfront insidious aspects of the story as she does with the unknown and occult ones.  After all, there is nothing more powerful than belief.

The murderous plot with a zealous killer on a countdown made the 600 pages of this door stopper fly by.  The pacing was neither rushed, nor stilted, providing us with just enough action and introspection to keep us on the edge of our seats as our attachment to those involved grows.  Naughty John proves once again that skipping songs are creepy and telling, and that perhaps we all should have listened closer to tales of bogeymen in the night when we were young.  I, for one, have been casting Cillian Murphey with his creepy blue eyes in the role of our Beast, and will be flinching every time I see them for some time.

Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ’em off for a coupla stones.

The Diviners isn’t without its flaws.  As stated, Evie has some very annoying traits, though most people seem to adore her, so that’s just ol’ stick-in-the-mud me being perpetually annoyed by attention needy performers who continually act without thinking and have little to no development or growth throughout.  Some readers are likely to find the use (or overuse) of 1920s lingo to be grating, but having read so many complaints of it prior to reading, it failed to get to me.  Additionally, the perspective shifts were not always as smooth as one would like, sometimes drifting into downright head-jumping territory, particularly in scenes with Theta and Memphis.

Regardless, The Diviners is a roaring start to a new series, one that is sure to unfold in unpredictable patterns.  If I can say one thing for Libba Bray’s books, it’s that I never know where they will take me.  I found The Diviners to be extremely well researched (in fact, I did attend an event in which I got to hear Libba Bray talk about her research process–this librarian approves), and it works quite well as a stand-alone story within an obviously bigger plot.  I can hardly wait to get to know all of our ancillary characters more, and am not likely to soon forget the creeping plot lines on the horizon.  So bravo, Libba Bray, you’ve finally managed to leave me one very satisfied reader.  Now, let’s do it again in book two.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Absolutely!  Obviously, this sixth book of Libba Bray’s has been my favorite, and I’m hardly going to pass up on the opportunity for more.  My expectations will likely be higher going into book two than they were going into this one–hopefully that doesn’t bite me in the end!

Recommended for:  The Diviners is perfect for those who enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, M.K. Hobson’s The Native Star, or the HBO series Carnivale.  Also, The Diviners has one of my favorite book trailers of the year, talk about creep factor!  Check it:

Get a second opinion:
The Nocturnal Library – “Make no mistake, The Diviners is a demanding book. It requires your full attention, but whatever it takes, it gives back tenfold.”
Ivy Book Bindings – “The Diviners is unlike anything you’ve ever read before. It’s original. It’s atmospheric. It’s vivid and sparkling and jumps out from the pages.”
Pocketful of Books – “Libba Bray never patronises of writes down to her audience, and that is what I love about her.”
The Readventurer – “I think that Libba Bray is a hilarious person, a talented writer, and I agree with pretty much all of the views she writes about (most entertainingly) on her blog.  And yet, I never seem to connect with her books.”
The Flyleaf Review – “If you are a fan of historical fiction, if you are fan of this period in history, if you are a fan of supernatural storylines, if you are fond of books that go bump in the night, if you value beautiful writing, or if you just want to get caught up in a thoroughly entertaining new series, The Diviners is the book for you.”

I’ve also reviewed:
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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32 comments »

  1. I know that I WANT to read this, but it’s so damn long that I’m intimidated! We got a copy of it at school for our classroom libraries so I’m thinking if no one takes it before break, I’ll bring it home and make it part of my winter break reading goal :)

    • Heidi says:

      Haha, I know the feeling! I finally just decided to sit down and do it, even if it took me ages. It was actually such a quick read, that despite it being 600 pages I think I read it in about 4 days. On top of which, I can’t remember the last time I read a book under 400 pages, so it didn’t seem all that out of hand at the time. Certainly a good winter break project!

  2. Nicole says:

    Oooo, I’m glad you liked it! It’s high up on my TBR list right now; looking forward to it. Great review!

  3. Holly says:

    Nice review, as always Heidi. I enjoyed parts of the Gemma Doyle series, but the third book disappointed me so much I haven’t picked up another of her books. You make me want to give this book a chance, however.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Holly. I really enjoyed parts of the Gemma Doyle series too! I’d have to to have read the whole thing. 😛 I really liked the world and the story (and I love me some Kartik), but Gemma drove me absolutely up a wall with her continual bad decision making, lack of thought, and zero growth throughout the books…you’d think she’d start learning, but nope! Never did. *sigh*

      I hope you do give this one a chance. I debated about whether or not to bother, but I’m glad I did!

  4. I absolutely agree that Bray’s character formula worked, and that it would have been too much to handle for most other writers. I also agree that the book isn’t without problems, but the good outweighs the bad by a ton.
    Oh, and you’ve reminded me that I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t read The Native Star. I need to fix that asap.

    • Heidi says:

      I really liked a lot of aspects of The Native Star, but a lot of it was messy as well. Still–it’s a fun read! As for The Diviners, there was so much more good than bad, that the bad really didn’t phase me too much! :)

  5. elena says:

    omg the overuse of lingo was KILLING me but I didn’t mind so much when I hit around the 200th page. I still haven’t finished it yet though, eep. It certainly is a really creative world. I like the diverse cast of characters, even if it seems jarrring switching perspectives all the time. Lovely review!

    • Heidi says:

      Hahaha, the only one that bothered me was adding the suffix ‘ski’ to everything. It got so in my head, I nearly said “I’m Jake” the other day, but managed to stop myself. I found the perspective shifts between chapters really smooth, even those between chapter breaks, but those that were done within a single section seemed sloppy.

  6. I am so glad that this one worked for you Heidi! Like you, I haven’t been the biggest fan of Bray’s works, although I am SUCH a fan of this author in general. She really is a character.

    I totally agree with your thoughts on Evie, I liked her but didn’t love her, though I did see some positive changes in her attitude toward the end. She’s so selfish, stubborn, and ambitious, she reminds me of the character of Scarlet O’Hara. But like Scarlet, I couldn’t help but root for her in the end:)

    I am really excited to see what Bray has in store for us in the sequel. This book was so IMMENSE, so much going on plot wise, I have absolutely NO idea what is going to happen next.

    And I’m so glad you included the trailer. I usually don’t go for book trailers but you’re right. This one is AMAZING. As is the companion website!

    Thanks for the link to my review! I loved reading your thoughts on this one!

    • OH! And it’s snowing on your blog! Yay! Love it:))

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I really like everything she does within the YA community, which is a large part of why I keep reading all of her books even though I haven’t loved one. I MIGHT have seen some growth in Evie by the end and started to like her if she hadn’t decided to DO THINGS to get major attention so that her uncle had to do what she wanted. Just came across as impetuous to me, and I really hated it.

      Glad you like the snow! 😀

  7. Yayy! I’m SO happy that this novel worked out so well for you, even when Bray’s other works didn’t. I despised Going Bovine, but I loved The Gemma Doyle Trilogy and still have to pick up Beauty Queens, but I have a feeling I’ll enjoy it. Bray is an author that somehow always comes through for me, but I think this was her best novel for sure. I loved Evie, despite her flaws, and just the entire ATMOSPHERE of this book! It made me feel as if I was in the Roaring 20s too! :) Amazing review, Heidi! 😀

    • Heidi says:

      If you despised Going Bovine, you may not like Beauty Queens either as they are in the same vein. I DO recommend Beauty Queens via audio–Libba reads it, and it’s fantastic! Honestly, I wouldn’t have even been able to get through that one if I’d been reading it. I liked the Gemma Doyle trilogy better than both those other books as well.

      I really liked the atmosphere, but Evie wasn’t my favorite–luckily she had enough fantastic moments that I just couldn’t hate her though.

  8. You convinced me to grab this book from the library. I agree with you about the characters in Libba Bray’s books. I’ve only read two of her books: A Great and Terrible Beauty (found the characters so annoying I couldn’t enjoy the story) and Beauty Queens (Absolutely loved). I listened to both via audiobook.

    I wasn’t sure I wanted to give The Diviners a try because I was so frustrated with Gemma Doyle and her friends from Spence. But I did really like Beauty Queens. So I’m giving it a try. Thanks for the push!

    • Heidi says:

      You should check it out, Quinn! Totally worth giving a try. Like I said, Evie has her Gemma-like moments, but all of the other characters are about 10 times better than Gemma’s horrid friends. The character diversity is more like Beauty Queens, which is a good sign for you!

  9. I am SO intrigued that you recommend it for fans of The Native Star, because I LOVED that book – it makes me want to pick this up more than anything else I’ve heard about it.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, something about the atmosphere and constant pacing just gave me the same feel as The Native Star. Glad it made you want to pick this one up!

  10. I enjoyed the Gemma Doyle books when I read them back in my early teen years. I’m not so sure my initial good feelings to them would remain if I were to reread them today. I am interested in more books by Libba Bray, however. My best bet for a successful read is on The Diviners, although I wonder if Evie will end up getting on my nerves. As a general rule I don’t like books narrated by multiple perspectives. But this book has received so much praise, even by you now! I’m glad that you found your first Libba Bray book that you can really enjoy, Heidi! I think I’ll have to eventually give The Diviners a try!

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, if I’d read the Gemma Doyle books as an actual teen, I probably would have been far less annoyed by the characters. If you liked Gemma Doyle, I’d definitely say your best bet is The Diviners over Going Bovine or Beauty Queens, which are incredibly different in tone. She does a fantastic job handling the many characters!

  11. I LOVED this one! All the characters were really fantastic and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds so we can get to know more about them. While yes, Evie’s constant use of 20s lingo got on my nerves, I thought it added this charming aspect to the book in a way I can’t really explain. I had no idea this was going to be a series, so while I was mildly disappointed in the ending, I’m super anxious for more! Great review!

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, it’s going to be at least four books long, in fact! I love that Libba Bray was able to do such a great job with the plot in this first one, makes me really excited to see what she comes up with for future books!

  12. Totally agree with you on this review. I LOVED this book. And the fact that it’s a doorstopper never dissuaded me. But for those that it is? It goes super-fast if you are enjoying it. I promise you.

    I loved this review and this is pretty much the best one I have seen for this book. Some of Evie’s lingo DID great on me, and I didn’t care for Memphis’character (I thought he was boring), but those were really my only complaints.

    The book was uber-creepy and I loved it. I can’t wait for the next one.

    • Heidi says:

      Right? I agree completely, Kara. It’s big, but it goes faster than books that are significantly smaller (at least it did for me).

      I found myself getting a little sad every time we’d switch to Memphis too. I like the kid, I really do, but his plot line just wasn’t as exciting as Evie’s for this one. I’m guessing he and his little bro will come more into play in the next book though, so I’m looking forward to that.

  13. VeganYANerds says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Heidi, and that you mentioned that the pace helped to lessen the length of this book because the number of pages is putting me off. And I only recently read my first of Libba’s books (BQ) and it was good and I think all the different characters helped it to be that way. Fantastic review, I’ll make time for this soon!

  14. Asheley says:

    I’ve tried to comment on this twice but can’t seem to articulate my thoughts exactly so I keep deleting. I’ll keep it super simple.

    I’m glad to see your thoughts on this one because I’ve been waiting for them – I knew you’d be honest. I noticed people were all flail-y about this one before the ARCs even began circulating. When that happens, I get a little apprehensive and almost don’t want to pick up a book. I find that the reviews tend to be almost always the same. In those instances, I just stay away from them and pick one or two that I KNOW will be honest and read those thoughts.

    So, I’m glad to see what you say here because I was on the fence, but I WANTED to want to read it. I’ll throw this on on the list for next year. Thanks for doing the hard work for me!

  15. Ooh—a couple of my friends who read this were REALLY bothered by the lingo, so I’m glad to see that having heard that a lot may mitigate my own annoyance. I’m still not super keen on Bray’s writing—I remember reading A Great and Terrible Beauty when it first came out (my copy is in storage somewhere), and coming away from it without caring much about whether or not I read any more about the characters. So I’ve been not too enthused about her books, even though she’s apparently a pretty cool lady.

  16. Tara says:

    Now this is a review that makes sense to me! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve had a hard time with Libba Bray’s other books, though I wanted so badly to love them. But this one sounds SO GOOD. Thank you for writing a review that articulates why it’s different/better and worth giving a go.

    ALSO, (and I may have already told you this — I forget) I read The Importance of Being Ernest this fall and it made me think of you. I finally feel like I really get your blog title!

  17. HAHA! I love what you said about her characters being annoying! I also felt like Gemma Doyle should have been better. But I keep hearing raves about this one. I just need to sit down and make myself read it. One of my most favorite things is the research that went into writing this story. I love when a book feels authentic! Also I loved THE NAME OF THE STAR so this is a definite for me.

  18. When I read the first book of the Gemma Doyle series back in 2008, I was really bored by it, but I think I need to try it again, because I clearly missed something. I’ve managed to snag the first two books in the series at Goodwill, so I just need to hunt down the last one. I loved Beauty Queens, though, and The Diviners was pretty great.

    I agree that it wasn’t without flaws. I think it got a bit long, and I say this as a reader of epic fantasy. There were moments that were a bit slow. I actually liked Evie as a heroine, particularly towards the end. I could not stand Sam one bit, though. Were I the editor, I would rip him right out of the story. He grated on me.

    Cillian Murphy would be PERFECT.

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