The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
by Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 18th, 2012
Format Read: Hardcover (signed)
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-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.
Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.
As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.
This review should probably be prefaced by my love for the Roaring Twenties. Because that is actually one of my favorite historical eras. The freedom of women, the awesome dresses, the dancing…when I learned that Libba Bray, one of my favorite authors, was writing a book set in my favorite era, I was quite excited, to say the least.
The Diviners does not disappoint. From the moment I met Evie O’Neill–nursing a hangover and facing the consequences of disgracing one of the town’s golden boys–I was hooked. When we followed her to New York, with its speakeasies and jazz bands and showgirls, I was delighted. There, while living with her eccentric uncle Will and his assistant Jericho, she gets caught up in a series of gruesome murders, supposedly committed by a ghost. After all, it’s Evie who holds the best chance they have of catching him, because she has a special talent: an ability to ‘read’ the past of an object and the emotions of its owner.
The cast of characters is one of the first things that catches my eye, and this time I was absolutely not disappointed. Evie is, of course, a perfect flapper, with bobbed hair and long necklaces and a taste for bootleg alcohol. And yet, we see below her superficial personality, to someone still coming to terms with herself. Theta Knight, Ziegfield girl, is a personal favorite, along with her ‘brother’ Henry and Memphis, an aspiring poet. Mabel Rose, the lonely daughter of two communist sympathisers, is an odd presence, but brings her wild companions somewhat down to earth. And then there are the two men, Jericho and Sam. What brings them all together is the murders, Evie, and a long-ago prophecy calling for a set of ‘Diviners’, people with rather special talents, to protect the world.
Some discussion needs to be had about the romance. Because it’s there, in a way that COULD have been a seriously complicated, teen-esque love geometry, but ISN’T. And you have so many examples of love, as well: Theta and Memphis, a love that is written in the stars and deemed unacceptable by society. The thief with a heart of gold and the golden girl. The beginnings of a love triangle that DOESNT HAPPEN, because the character KNOWS HER OWN MIND. (Sorry for the capital letters, but this is a landmark moment in YA).
The other thing that Libba Bray does absolutely fantastically is atmosphere. Probably my favorite thing about this book is how she depicts New York, less a place than a person. She depicts all of the showy glory of Manhattan as Evie sees it, and all of the shadowy, seedy areas where the murders happen. She shows the potential and the squalor. She shows the richness of the bright young things, the anger of Harlem and their struggle for a place, the immigrants that fill the city and their misplaced hopes. And, since it is Libba Bray, she also illustrates a sort of creepy weirdness to all of this. Little old prophesying ladies. Waitresses in Chinatown who walk in dreams. A beggar hungering for a power he once had and a solution to his blindness. Horror stories and darkness and religious cults and a figure named Naughty John.
These elements, combined with a suspenseful plot (12 murders, each gruesome in origin) and the idea of these Diviner powers, made this a fantastic read. More along the lines of A Great and Terrible Beauty than Going Bovine, it nevertheless has a certain dark wryness to it. It’s easy to be pulled in by Evie O’Neill’s sparkling, over-the-top personality, as she vows to take New York by storm, and be kept by the skilled way that Libba weaves the story together.
In addition, although the cover is nowhere near as beautiful as The Diviners, the sequel has come out yesterday. Since Emily and I are certain to have pre-ordered it, and certain to read it voraciously the moment it comes to us, a review should be coming soon.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.