Series: The Diviners #1
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on September 18th, 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Young Adult
It's 1920s New York City. It's flappers and Follies, jazz and gin. It's after the war but before the depression. And for certain group of bright young things it's the opportunity to party like never before.
For Evie O'Neill, it's escape. She's never fit in in small town Ohio and when she causes yet another scandal, she's shipped off to stay with an uncle in the big city. But far from being exile, this is exactly what she's always wanted: the chance to show how thoroughly modern and incredibly daring she can be.
But New York City isn't about just jazz babies and follies girls. It has a darker side. Young women are being murdered across the city. And these aren't crimes of passion. They're gruesome. They're planned. They bear a strange resemblance to an obscure group of tarot cards. And the New York City police can't solve them alone.
Evie wasn't just escaping the stifling life of Ohio, she was running from the knowledge of what she could do. She has a secret. A mysterious power that could help catch the killer - if he doesn't catch her first.
The Diviners is one of those books that has been on my TBR list and my bookshelf for AGES, but I just never got around to. And, I mean, really, who can blame me – it’s almost 600 freaking pages. So this is when book club comes in to save the day! Book Club: The Way to Get Debby to Read Chunky Books™. Though I needed that extra push, I’m so glad I finally did it – finally read this wonderfully creepy book, which happens to be my first (and certainly not my last) encounter with Libba Bray.
What immediately struck me upon reading The Diviners is how lovely the writing style truly is. Libba Bray does have a great reputation amongst friends of mine, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but I really had one of those moments where I was like, “WOW. WORD PORN.” First of all, she really delves into the setting and makes every word of the narrative authentic. The 1920’s dialects and lingo were just so engaging and wonderful. But second, it’s all her descriptors and the vivid imagery she provides with her world building. It really reminded me of Laini Taylor’s writing in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Samantha Shannon in The Bone Season. It may be a bit dense, but it is utterly lovely.
Now, my second immediate observation was: “OH MY GOD THIS IS CREEPY”. I knew the book was paranormal historical fiction, but that doesn’t mean I immediately associate it with the creep factor. Well the first chapter really set me straight there, when a spirit taunts via a Ouija board, “I STAND AT THE DOOR AND KNOCK. I AM THE BEAST. I HOLD THE KEYS OF HELL AND DEATH. WRATH IS COME.” Um. Um. CHILLS. Since I’d purchased the book so long ago and actually purely based on the ratings and ravings of friends, I didn’t actually read the synopsis closely enough to realize this is about a legit serial killer that the paranormal “Diviners” try to stop. Aside from this Ouija board scene, the book actually describes in quite some detail the horrifying murders that this killer, Naughty John, commits. Luckily they are interspersed with the other characters working on solving the mysteries to find out who the killer is, because it could otherwise have been pretty overwhelming.
I’m actually really enchanted with one of the main characters, Evie. Arguably, the biggest main character of this novel. Anyway, she’s one of those beautifully flawed characters, but to me she’s so well fleshed out. She really fit in this setting of 1920’s New York, where she just wants to party and have fun. She’s rather self-centered, but I felt like I really understood her character anyway. She’s like Jane Austen’s Emma to me, flawed and self-centered but real, vivid, and still lovable. And that makes Mabel, her friend, the Harriet of this story. This parallel burns in my mind, so while Mabel is a bit of a dull character that can fade into the background, I loved the dynamic between the two.
However, there are many other “main” characters with their own PoVs (such as they are, they’re all in third person). I didn’t connect to everyone equally, but I praise the diversity and do feel like each had a distinctive voice, which mostly stems from the fact that Bray takes the time to show you each of their back stories. They all have some kind of paranormal power, which has affected their lives in one way or another in the past, so there are plenty of scars and mysteries. However, where this fell short to me is that it really felt like all these characters and these histories would come together in the end — that they’d become a dream team and all those little back stories would have a significance in bringing down Naughty John. And for the most part… they didn’t. That was the biggest let down for me. And I suppose it’s not all for nothing, and the significance will come later in the series, but it makes me wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to reveal those things THEN instead of making me believe here that every detail was important. The book is so massive… it could possibly have been trimmed down.
There’s a HINT of romance in the book as well, and I was glad it didn’t take dominance over the rest of the story. But oh my good lord do I ship the crap out of Evie and Sam. They don’t even really have a romance going on, but there’s some good banter and flirtation, and I was so into it, I actually put post-its in my book so I could reread that later. Their dynamic is freaking AWESOME — but it made the romantic twist at the end of the book very ASDFJKL: HULK SMASH to me. *pouts* Sail, ship. You’d better sail. Or I might never forgive you for these feels.
The plot really kept me turning the pages, because the killer was so horrifying, and there was a clear deadline for what would be THE END OF THE WORLD if they didn’t stop him. So I ended up reading this rather quickly and fiercely. I loved the world building around the paranormal powers but wish we’d gotten a bit more. Though I was thoroughly engaged by the story, I think I would have been annoyed if I’d read more mystery/horror novels, because there are quite a few turns to the cliché (i.e. girl goes to the killer’s house practically alone, guy gets a warning not to go somewhere but he does and it ends badly, etc.). At times, it’s like you’re watching one of those horror movies and you can’t help but yell at the book, “NO. STOP. DON’T DO THAT. BAD IDEA.” However, with my experience as it was, I was able to brush that off and enjoy. The ending was that tiny bit cliché, but I was overall satisfied. I did not, however, really like how the thirty pages after the conflict resolution went on and on and started up storylines for the next book. You ALMOST did not put in a cliffhanger ending. Now I’m just confused and worried about how long I have to wait. *sigh* #booknerdproblems