The Diviners – by Libba Bray
This is a hefty novel! I love a book that’s long enough to really sink your teeth into, and at nearly 600 pages The Diviners certainly fit that category. I was given an ARC at work for this book, due to be released in Australia on November 1st, and in spite of the size I tore through this story. Here’s why:
New York in the 1920’s is an intoxicating miasma of old and new, tradition and progress, high society and low sobriety. It’s a time of probibition (hah!), ghost stories, flappers, gradual racial integration, and boundless optimism about the future.
Evie O’Neill is being punished – sent away from her home in Ohio to live with her Uncle Will, after causing a stir in her home town with her slightly spooky psychic party tricks. But when Uncle Will lives in the middle of the hip New York City, along with one of Evie’s best friends, Mabel, it’s a punishment she can bear! She’s looking forward to dancing and drinking and crushes and excitement. After all, NYC is a city of endless possibilities.
What Evie didn’t anticipate is that one possibility was being drawn into investigating a series of murders, apparently being committed by some sort of religious wacko, and each more gruesome than the rest. When the murderer turns out to be not quite human, will Evie be brave enough to use her not quite normal abilities to help defeat this being, before it’s too late to save anyone?
What I loved about this story was the incredibly creepy tone established in the prologue that lasted throughout book. Wow. I started reading late at night and had chills. It’s relentless, a constant prickle at the back of your neck, a rising sense of dread and urgency.
It’s rare for a book to be written with that much atmosphere, and it’s even more rare in YA Fantasy, from what I’ve read. There are often moments of fright in YA, but not this constant prickling of dread. This was seriously impressive, and seriously unnerving.
The characters were many and solid. Evie is exuberant, unapologetically young and a little careless, but willing to make up for her mistakes. Mabel is shy and often stuck in Evie’s shadow, but makes a real change as the novel progresses, which is satisfying to witness. The boys are complicated and flawed but also adorable, as any good YA book boy should be, and Uncle Will is trying his best to be an authority figure (with limited success) and knows more than he’s letting on about what’s going on.
The novel had a really good self-contained plot which is great when you know it’s the start of a series. Nothing like a good chunk of resolution at the conclusion of a novel this long! And the continuing storylines are intriguing, promising a greater evil to contend with later. I’ll definitely be following this series as it continues!
I don’t know that the ’20’s are my favourite period in terms of setting, and I found some of the mannerisms a bit grating, and others pretty endearing. And by the end of The Diviners I’d decided I was a bigger fan of the ’20’s than I had been at the beginning, anyway. Well played, Libba Bray, very well-played.
Creepy, intelligent, big cast, ambitious mysteries and the promise of an even bigger challenge in the sequel(s?) – I’m in!
I loved the genuinely eerie tone of The Diviners. In honour of that and just in time for Halloween; what scary books have you been reading?