Thursday, March 21, 2013
Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray
Tags: young adult, historical, paranormal, 1920s
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.
All hail Her Royal YA Highness Libba Bray, who can write about anything she wants in any genre or mix of genres and have it be a critical and commercial success. In her new series, which begins with THE DIVINERS, Bray returns to the stomping grounds that had first gotten her fans: a solid ensemble cast of characters with a dollop of very atmospheric paranormal elements.
Evie is a mouthy, flighty, manipulative, and sometimes silly ball of energy. She is, in short, whom part of you always wishes you could be like, and also everything you would never want to have to deal with in another person. Evie may drive you crazy with her impulsiveness and selfishness at times, but it is those characteristics of hers that allow her to be such a one-of-a-kind protagonist. Her lines and actions literally dominate the pages. If ever there was a character who was bigger than the words describing her, it would be Evie. And I’m sure she would be happy to hear that about herself.
Evie, however, is not the only star of this book. Her new friends are strong characters in their own right. In THE DIVINERS, Evie’s friends and acquaintances don’t seem to be in the book for the sole purpose of convenient info-dumping or plot-hopping: it’s not difficult to see them as protagonists of their own stories—Theta, the glamorous Ziegfeld girl with the troubled past; Memphis, the golden boy from Harlem; Mabel, who is just coming out of the shadow of her idealistic, revolutionist parents; Jericho, strong and silent with a secret that could blow apart everyone’s conception of humanity; and Sam, the pickpocket whose suave exterior hides a grimly driven purpose. Along those lines, the dash of romance in this book will surprise and, I hope, delight you. Bray does not go the expected route, and neither does the romance impose upon the main plot in any way. Dare I say that this is one YA romantic setup that I actually can’t wait to see play out in the sequel?
Speaking of “main plot,” though…Well, sometimes it’s hard to tell what that is. The synopsis sells the premise of a supernatural serial killer, but that’s just the surface—fitting, for a 600-page book. The languid, almost irresponsibly lazy pace of the first half of the book nearly killed it for me. It’s necessary setup for future books in the series, and I appreciate that because of this thorough setup the future books will not beat a finished plot to death, but boy did it divide this book for me.
Overall, an extremely enjoyable novel, particularly for Libba Bray fans but also for those new to her books.
Sarah Rees Brennan
Cover discussion: It's unique! But, um, I feel like it didn't take the opportunity to make the most out of the characters' quirkiness and Bray's rich depictions of the times.
Little, Brown / Sept. 18, 2012 / Hardcover / 592pp. / $19.99
e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley.