December 5, 2012 by Heidi
Title: 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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Category Review, Young Adult | Tags: 1920s, cults, diviners, fanaticism, flappers, ghosts, Historical Fiction, horror, Little Brown, love square, love triangle, new adult, New York, New York City, paranormal, review, serial killer, speculative fiction, young adult