by Libba Bray
Little Brown Books for Young Readers
September 18, 2012
Source: Southern Book Bloggers ARC Tours
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. (Taken from Goodreads.)
In the townhouse at a fashionable address on Manhattan's Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.
My Take On It
This. Book. Guys. Get ready for a fangirly, gushing, passionate, and hopefully coherent, review of award-winning and best selling author Libba Bray's latest: The Diviners. Something about me: I love the supernatural. Ghosts, séances, magic, the occult, all of it. Love it in the books I read. Love it in the television and films I watch. Just LOVE it. I also love historical fiction. I love getting swept up in a different time and place, and the roaring twenties is one of those periods in time that has always fascinated me. And if you are familiar with this blog, then you know that I love atmospheric, lyrical, some might even say lofty, writing. I'm a fan of poetry and prose. So when I find a book that somehow manages to encompass all three of these elements and do it well, it's like a dream come true. Guys, The Diviners does this and MORE.
Okay, so the obvious first. The Diviners is BIG. Thick. Weighty in fact. Just shy of 600 pages. But listen, because this is important. Do not fear the BIG book. Do not fear wading through pages of filler as you await the good stuff. There is a LOT going on in The Diviners. There are a lot of characters and each has their own story to tell. And there are a lot of intersecting and connecting plot lines. But you know what? Libba Bray manages to incorporate all of these aspects and somehow, somehow, write a book that is not a huge convoluted mess. And she accomplishes this with her trademark wit and humor that her legions of fans love. And also? She manages to write some of the most beautiful, painterly, poetic passages I have had the pleasure of reading.
What can you expect to read about in The Diviners? Here's a look at my notes:
Demons, devils, doomsday cults, prophets, beasts, secret government projects, the Apocalypse, secret powers/ abilities, human sacrifice, Free Masons, Ouija boards, gangsters, deals with the devil, witches, seers, spiritualism, flappers, séances, pentacles, Prohibition, steampunk automatons, dream walking, haunted houses, cannibalism, Ziegfield Follies, Antichrists, Eugenics, the Harlem Renaissance, comets, voodoo, hustlers, the occult, and psychotic, murdering ghosts.
Yeah. All of it. But before your head completely explodes wondering how in the world all of this could be presented in one (albeit BIG) book and not be one giant cluster-you-know-what, take a deep breath and let me assure you, it WORKS. In fact it works amazingly well. Here's why:
Characters. The Diviners is written in 3rd person multiple POV. It has to be. I don't think there is any way that Bray could have told the stories of Evie, Jericho, Sam, Mabel, Memphis, Theta, Henry, Will, Naughty John and all the rest effectively if she had written from a single or even dual POV. Yes, that is a lot of characters. But somehow Bray is able to fully flesh and make real each and every one. One of the things I love about Bray's books is that when I read them I feel like I am reading a play. I can hear the voices of the characters in my head. I can hear Evie with her modern sensibilities and flapper slang bubbling away as she talks about the party she attended last night or how awful her hangover was this morning. I can hear Memphis shooting the breeze with Blind Bill Johnson on the street corner as the residents of Harlem pass by. I can hear Theta and Henry as they get instructions at rehearsal for next Saturday's performance at the Follies. And I can hear Naughty John sing his eerie nursery rhyme as he stalks his next victim. It's cliché, but all of the characters leap from the pages of this book. In fact, this book seems tailor made for the big screen. It felt like I was watching a movie in my head as I was reading. Here's your cast of characters:
Evie O'Neill enjoys the most screen time. Guys, Evie is the Scarlet O'Hara of the Jazz Age. She's spoiled and selfish, but she is also resourceful and brave.
Some mornings she'd wake and vow, Today, I will get it right. I won't be such an awful mess of a girl. I won't lose my temper or make unkind remarks. I won't go too far with a joke and feel the room go quiet with disapproval. I'll be good and kind and sensible and patient. The sort everyone loves.
But by evening her good intentions would have unraveled. She'd say the wrong thing or take a dare she shouldn't, just to be noticed. Perhaps Mabel was right, she was selfish. But what was the point of living so quietly you made no noise at all? "Oh, Evie, you're too much," people said, and it wasn't complimentary. Yes, she was too much. She felt like too much inside all the time.Like Margaret Mitchell's Civil War heroine, Evie has some serious character flaws. But she is resilient and charismatic (as are many of the characters in The Diviners) and you just can't help but love her in the end.
Maybe my favorite character of the bunch is Memphis Campbell. Memphis, a numbers runner by day, dreams of becoming a poet like his idols Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes. Here is example of his work:
She wears her grief like a coat of feathers too heavy for flight.Beautiful, no? Memphis is very easy on the eyes, flirty and has a way with the women. But he is also kind and caring and longs for a better life for himself and his little brother, Isaiah. Memphis is dreamy with a capital D:)
Theta Knight is a showstopper, literally. She's thoroughly modern and embodies everything Evie wants to be. She's a Ziegfield girl, who lives with her best friend Henry and has a dark past shadowing her every move.
It was Henry who had convinced her to bob her hair. Arm in arm, they'd walked to the barbershop on Bleeker Street, Theta dressed in Henry's clothes. She sat perfectly still, eyes forward, as the shears bit through her thick ringlets. Hair fell in feathery piles around the barber's chair. Theta felt her head growing lighter as if she were being shorn of the weight of memory, the ghosts of her past.
Jericho Jones is perhaps the most mysterious of them all. He is forthright, hard working, intellectual and hiding a very big secret. Jericho is Evie's Uncle Will's assistant at The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult and the object of Evie's best gal pal Mabel's every desire.
Sam Lloyd is a two bit hustler always on the lookout for his next mark. Charismatic, handsome, and smooth talking, Sam also has a haunted history riddled with questions that he is desperate to answer.
Henry and Gabriel, Theta and Memphis's best friends; Evie's Uncle Will and her best friend Mabel; Blind Bill Johnson, Miss Walker, and a few others help to round out this diverse cast. And there is a connection between all of them. Alongside the main cast of characters, nearly all possess a secret supernatural ability. Why they harbor these talents and why they are all in New York City at this particular moment in time is just one of the mysteries to be found within The Diviners.
And where would this book be without a horrific, psychotic murdering spirit? Enter Naughty John Hobbes. Holy crap, is this guy SCARY. Friends, The Diviners is the PERFECT book to read around Halloween because it will absolutely scare the shit out of you.
"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."I recently reviewed Gretchen McNeil's Ten (read the review HERE) and I remarked that I am loving the horror trend in YA that seems to be happening. Guys, The Diviners is without a doubt one of the creepiest books I have read in a long time. Serial killer creepy. No, make that, ritual, serial killer creepy. And just to make you squirm a little bit more, Bray has Naughty John's victims narrate a few chapters too. The result is enough to make shivers run down your spine. It's frightening and ghoulish and completely mesmerizing. In other words, I LOVE it.
I have to talk about the setting a bit because like any good piece of historical fiction, setting is EVERYTHING. New York City in 1926 is the place to be, people! It's Prohibition (BOO!) but it's also the era of The Harlem Renaissance. It's speakeasies and bootleg liquor and it's a great big party after the horrible losses of The Great War. It's a time to celebrate life. It's a new age with Model T 's and fortunes to be made on Wall Street. If I could choose a moment in history to travel back to for just one day, the roaring twenties would definitely be near the top of my list.
But you know what else NYC is in 1926? It's a time of organized crime. It's a time of segregation between different immigrant groups and different races. It's a time of social upheaval, a time when Sacco and Vanzetti's trial made the news and when socialists and communists held rallies to push their philosophies to the people. And in The Diviners, its a time when something dark is brewing. Something is coming. Something evil. The atmosphere in The Diviners alternates between excitement and celebration to tension, fear and tones of ominous events to come. In The Diviners we know that there is an evil on it's way, a theme repeated again and again, but what I appreciated was that there really WERE bad things around the corner for America. The stock market crash of 1929; the ensuing decade long Great Depression; and eventually, WWII. My mind couldn't help but make these connections as I read and I feel that this was intentional on the part of the author. To me, it just made the reading even more compelling.
Characters and setting/ atmosphere in The Diviners are top notch. But the writing is absolutely breathtaking. I've read the Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray, but it doesn't hold a candle to the writing found in The Diviners. Like the story itself, Bray's manipulation of the written word is ambitious, sprawling and sweeping. We read it here:
The man in the stovepipe hat walked across the broken fields, toward the sleeping town and cities, the factories and cotton fields, the train tracks, roads, telephone poles, and ticker-tape parades. Toward the monuments of heroes, toward the longing and disillusion of the people. Light crackled as he walked, and behind him, the ground was black as cinders.
For me it paints a definite picture in my mind and like Memphis' literary hero Walt Whitman, it's almost poetic in quality.
And farther still, in the vast prairies mythologized in the American mind, a figure stood shadowed in the dark, biding his time, a scarecrow awaiting the harvest.
And my new favorite quote:
"There is no greater power on this earth than story." Will paced the room. "People think boundaries and borders build nations. Nonsense--words do. Beliefs, declarations, constitution-- words. Stories, Myths, Lies, Promises. History."(Yep, I'll be finding a permanent home for that quote somewhere on the blog:)
I was blown away by the writing in this book. I knew Bray could write wit and sarcasm and I knew she was a great story teller, but I didn't necessarily expect writing of this caliber from her. It's fair to say that I am now, most definitely, a FAN.
A note about the use of slang in The Diviners. You know, it doesn't bother me as much as it does some readers. It's obvious that this book required a colossal amount of research on the part of Bray and her research team. Historical fiction should be historically accurate, and that includes language usage and slang. In my opinion, nothing is as distracting as reading a 19th century character utter a 21st century phrase. Yes, I think Bray could've toned down the slang a bit, but it's employed for many reasons in The Diviners. The heavy use of slang actually helps to shape the character of Evie, who more then anyone embraces the spirit of the roaring twenties.
In closing, I DEVOURED this book. Look, it is not a quick read. It's got meat to it. But it's worth the time it takes. Like most books that are the first in a planned series, much of The Diviners is about setting the stage, introducing characters and foreshadowing events to come. But what a stage it is. I am so caught up in this epic tale that Libba Bray is weaving. I cannot wait to see how it all plays out in the end. 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.
Check out The Diviners website HERE.
Check out some more amazing reviews of The Diviners:
Finding Bliss in Books
Good Books and Good Wine
The Book Smugglers
Pocketful of Books
Birth of a New Witch
Indigo (a fascinating Q&A with author Libba Bray)