Book Review: The Diviners, by Libba Bray

August 29, 2012 at 7:20 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Evie O’Neill has a posi-tute-ly neat-o party trick that lets her read memories from touching anyone’s personal possessions. Doing it at a party, however, gets her kicked out of her home and sent off to her Uncle Will, in Jazz Age New York. What should be a delightful escapade is soured by the presence of a twisted killer with a ritualistic aspect that brings Will into the investigation. As Evie reconnects with old friends and makes new ones in the heady world of Follies, fashion, and speakeasies, unearthly powers are shfiting, pulling together young men and women with unusual gifts. The Diviners are being called- and their story is only starting.

Sometimes timing sucks, because this ARC arrived right as I was supposed to be getting down to the nitty gritty of packing to move. Nitty gritty didn’t happen until the book was finished, because OH MY GOD, strap in.

As much as I want to speak about this intelligently, I’m not even sure where to start. The characters, the setting, the story, the MAJOR creep factor…there are eight million pieces to this book that all come together in this amazing manner that is just mind-blowing.

So…characters. There are a lot of them. The perspective shifts between them, some of them only with us for a chapter, or even part of a chapter, some of them prominent. In as much as you can say there’s a single MC, it’s Evie, but this is very much an ensemble cast. She’s centerstage for this one, but you get the strong feeling that the others will be taking their turns in later books. Despite the sheer number of characters to keep track of, it doesn’t prove to be a difficult or daunting task- each of them is so finely crafted, so detailed and distinct, that you can’t really confuse them. What I really love about them- all of them- is that they each have specific journeys to make. Every significant character has his or her own story arc that doesn’t end with the final page. This is the definitely the first book of a series, but we don’t have to wait for each book to see the growth. Every character has their surface layers- the slang and the parties, the devil-may-care or the dedication to a cause- but they also have layers of secrets and dark pains that define them just as much as the bobbed hair and charming smile. To talk about them individually would take up the entire review, but in a nutshell, some of the things I loved the most: Mabel’s anxieties, Jericho’s broody introspection, Sam’s adaptability, Theta’s vulnerability, Henry’s generosity, Memphis’ guilt, and Evie’s slow realization of a world beyond illegal gin and patterned stockings. Brilliant.

In opening the front cover of this book, we’re invited into Jazz Age New York, the height of the Roaring Twenties. The Great War is done, leaving in its wake a surge of nationalism and euphoria as the nation heals from the first wholescale slaughter of trench warfare. Prohibition is in effect, women have only recently won the legal right to vote, and social reform has swept the streets of the poorer parts of the city. Harlem is the center of jazz, silent pictures and elaborate burlesque stage shows are in their heyday, with the bells poised to ring their deaths with the creation of talkies. Women are bobbing their hair, showing their knees, and glorying in fashion after the deprivations of war. Slang is rich and fast, and for the flappers and their boys, every day is to be lived to the fullest, without care or concern for anything beyond right now. The details of this world envelop us, never drowning or trying too hard to set the stage or to explain, but simply bringing us into it. I mean EVERY detail, right down to word choice and the fact that you have to crank the car to get it started when it’s cold. I’m not normally a Roaring Twenties girl; I kind of overdosed on it in a phase back in high school and haven’t yet gotten past that. But this is…this book made me fall in love with the Twenties all over again. The setting wraps around us in a million different ways, some of which we don’t even notice until we specifically look for them, but it keeps us firmly planted in a time without cell phones or mini-skirts.

It’s a fantastic story, the supernatural woven through with the obsessive nature of the fanatic, a careful balance between the demonic and the divine. There’s a large degree of disgust that comes with the murders and deepens as we learn more behind the motivations and purpose of the deaths, but there’s also a pervading sense of menace. Be careful reading this book at night- some of the most superbly terrifying parts of this book are packed into just a few pages, even a paragraph or two in the midst of so much more, but you devour the pages and in the back of your mind there’s the little voice that’s singing a child’s song that just sends shivers stabbing down your spine. I don’t think it would be a Libba Bray book if it weren’t laugh out loud funny, but it’s a very different type of humor than, say, Beauty Queens, where everything was in your face and over the top and absurd. Here, the humor is part and parcel of the Roaring Twenties, when wit was fashionable and one-liners were idolized. It’s funny as hell, but it’s fast and snappy, and some of them are most enjoyable when the characters around them miss what’s being said- or why it’s funny. Just as the slang and the rhythms of speech show proof of the flawless and deep research, so does the humor.

And the fact that this is a series? Makes me jump with joy. I’m sorry- I truly am- that I can’t talk about this more coherently, but there is just SO MUCH to this book. It’s a hefty one, so it may lose some of the more impatient readers, but those who stay through til the end? Will be waiting for the next one just as much as I am.

And if you want to win an advance copy before it comes out 18 September, check out my giveaway, open til midnight ending Wednesday, 19 August!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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