by Libba Bray
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-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.
Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.
As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.
“Naughty John, Naughty John. Does his work with his apron on.”
The Diviners has been on my TBR for the longest time, in fact I’ve owned my edition for around four years, so I’m so pleased that I finally read it and, on top of that, that I enjoyed it so much!
Evie O’Neill has a gift that very few people know about, a gift that leads her to drink rather than to try and work out what any of it means. When her behaviour gets her into trouble, her parents send her away from their home in Ohio to stay with her Uncle Will in bustling New York. But Will runs a museum of occult history, and soon Evie discovers her gift could help solve a series of gruesome murders plaguing the city.
There was so much I loved about this novel, but what had me completely transfixed was the way Bray brought 1920s New York to life. The Diviners oozes the ’20s, not only featuring what we expect from that time period, such as flappers and prohibition, but the racial and class tensions, the melting pot of cultures and conflict that America is built on, and colloquialisms that never sounded forced.
This is one of those books where I regularly forgot it had ever been written, if that makes any sense? As far as I was concerned I was in the 1920s with Evie and the friends she makes, and I can’t think of any higher praise for an author than that I forgot their hand was behind it all. I’m not sure a setting has ever come alive for me as much as this one did, and while I love characters I can believe and I love a fun plot, I’ve also realised over the years that I’m the kind of reader that loves a well realised and believable setting. I could picture everything in this book so clearly, and I can’t wait to read more from Libba Bray.
As well as the setting, though, Bray’s characters are wonderful. I love Evie. She’s a bit of a mess and she can be rather selfish, but she’s believable and she feels real. Does she sometimes make dumb decisions or say things she shouldn’t? Of course, but that only makes her feel more genuine. I don’t like characters who are perfect and Evie’s fun to follow because you just know, at some point, she’s going to put her foot in it.
There’s a whole wealth of characters in this novel – Mabel; Theta; Henry; Memphis; Sam; Jericho; Will and so many more – and each of them feels fleshed out and, again, believable. What I love about the way Bray writes these people is that while they might be side characters in Evie’s story, she doesn’t write them like they’re side characters; they all have their own goals and fears, they aren’t there to act as baubles for Evie’s tree, and I’m so excited to read the rest of this series and learn more about each of them.
I loved Mabel and Theta, in particular, and their friendship with Evie is so fun and lovely. The setting and the characters throughout this novel, even the murder victims who we only meet briefly, are excellent.
But every story needs its villain. I wouldn’t say The Diviners is scary, but it’s certainly spooky and I felt myself growing nervous for the characters whenever Naughty John was near. He was genuinely creepy, and while there were some mentions of violence – such as one victim’s eyes having been removed by the time the body is found – the uneasiness in this book comes from everything Bray doesn’t say, and that’s far more unnerving.
The main criticism I’ve seen of this book is that it’s too long, and I think I’d have to disagree. If anything the only reason this book didn’t get 5 stars from me is because I thought the ending felt fairly rushed compared to the rest of the story, and a little too easy.
For the most part Bray takes her time, She lets us spend time in 1920s New York City; she lets us explore and stretch our legs and familiarise ourselves with it, and all those pages are needed for the amount of characters she introduces us to who have backstories I wanted to know more about. By the end of this novel I cared so much about all of these characters and what was going to happen to them, and I wouldn’t have been allowed so close to them if Bray hadn’t written a chunky novel.
If you haven’t guessed already, I loved this book. It’s perfect Halloween reading material with some of the best world-building I’ve seen in YA historical fiction, and I can’t wait to continue with the series!