Thursday, February 14, 2013

"The Diviners," by Libba Bray

The Protagonist: Evie O'Neill. When misusing her secret psychic powers gets her exiled to live with her uncle in New York City, she sees it as a perfect opportunity to live the high life she's always dreamed of.
Her Angst: A killer is stalking the streets of Manhattan, and when Evie's curiosity gets the better of her, she learns there's more to this world than meets the eye.

The Other Protagonist: Memphis Campbell. As an errand-boy for a local crime boss, Memphis composes poetry in his spare time and tries to keep his family together as best he can.
His Angst: He used to have a magical ability to heal people - but it vanished after turning on him. Now his brother's showing signs of being psychic.

The Secondary Cast:

Will Fitzgerald: Evie's uncle, who owns a museum of supernatural oddities. Used to work for the government. Has a Shady Past.

Sam: A street thief with the mystical ability to avoid detection who allies himself with Will and Evie in hopes of tracking down his mother.

Mabel: Evie's friend and penpal, who is the mousy daughter of socialist revolutionaries.

Jericho: Will's loyal teenaged assistant. Shy and awkward, he takes a shine to Evie, oblivious to the fact that Mabel is crazy about him. However, there's more to him than meets the eye...

Theta: A chorus girl for the Ziegfield Follies. Possesses a dangerous and quite possibly fatal power that keeps her from making real connections with anyone - except Henry, her closest friend.

Henry: A young piano player and composer with the power of walking through dreams.

YA Angst Checklist:
  • I Just Want to Drink But It's Illegal for Everyone
  • Bobbing My Hair
  • Bright Lights, Big City
  • I Can't Believe I Have Magical Powers and My Life Still Sucks
  • I Definitely Chose the Wrong Stockings for Raiding A Cemetery
  • Interracial Relationships
  • Rape
  • Dead Siblings
  • Religious Fanaticism
  • The Spirit World
The Word: It's 1926, and 17-year-old Evie O'Neill is too big for her small town of Zenith, Ohio. Not only because of her outsize personality and conviction that she's made for flashbulbs and stardom, but also because of her unique ability to read a person's secrets and memories by holding an object of theirs. One night, after downing too much gin at a party, she unleashes her talent in an effort to impress people and winds up accusing the town golden boy of impregnating a chambermaid. When the boy's furious family threatens to sue the O'Neills for slander, Evie's exasperated parents ship her off to New York City to spend a few months with her reclusive uncle Will until the scandal dies down.

To Evie, it's the perfect punishment - escaping dull Ohio for the bright lights of NYC under the dubious supervision of an absentminded academic uncle? What could be better? At first, life is every bit as exciting as she imagined. She reconnects with her penpal, Mabel, meets Will's awkward teenage assistant, Jericho, and befriends Theta, a glamorous chorus girl who seems to know all the town's hottest spots. Sure, she has to work part-time at her uncle's failing Museum of the Supernatural (locally known as the Museum of Creepy Crawlies), but that's a pretty small fly in a pretty large jar of ointment.

On the other side of the city, Memphis, a young numbers runner for the local crime lord, tries to keep his family together even as his younger brother, Isaiah, starts exhibiting a talent for precognition and prophecy. Memphis, himself, used to have a paranormal talent for healing until it betrayed him in the worst of ways and he worries about Isaiah being dragged into that kind of pain.

But all is not well in New York City. A sinister figure known as Naughty John is stalking the streets, claiming very specific victims and leaving their bodies posed with supernatural symbols on them. The police come to Will for his paranormal expertise and Evie gets involved, too - discovering not only that her talent actually has a practical application outside of drunken party tricks, but that other people in New York have secret powers, too.

Libba Bray's The Diviners is a fiendishly entertaining and epic fantasy novel that manages a near-perfect balance between humour and horror. Bray creates a fascinating period piece peppered with gorgeous detail (cloche hats! Gin! Egg creams!) but doesn't do so at the expense of character development. Evie dashes to and fro with the flawlessly charming rat-a-tat delivery of a champagne-sozzled screwball comedienne, but beneath the firecracker dialogue churns the insecurities of an uncertain girl with relatable motivations that transcend her time period.

Despite its enormous length, the story speeds along at a frantic clip, fuelled by vibrant dialogue, an engaging mystery, and an enormous ensemble cast of teenage characters who all manage to contribute something necessary to the narrative. I gnawed through this addictive and thoroughly enjoyable doorstopper and never once felt the story slacken or encountered a plot device or character that felt unnecessary.

Also, despite the massive scope of The Diviners, Bray keeps most of the romance pretty low key. While two male characters are very obviously being moved into position to make up a love triangle in the next book (Sam and Jericho with Evie), all three characters remain independently developed and individually likeable. While there was a moment of Insta-Love between Memphis and Theta that bothered me (because Insta-Love bothers me on principle), it doesn't take up enough of the storyline to become a full-fledged annoyance.

The Diviners is an expertly-written, engaging, and creative historical YA paranormal that calls to mind Chicago, Supernatural, and even X-Men. While it may take a while to read (because it really is a massive tome), you'll enjoy yourself for every minute.


  1. It seems like it's an interesting book! I like stories where characters have access to others' minds like Evie does. I'll put this on my list of books to read. Thanks for the review!

    1. Honestly, I loved the language the description more than anything else. I *loved* the slang and the setting and the clothes. It was all so sumptuous.

  2. Loretta Chase is brilliant - her writing is deft and witty and just makes sense.

  3. There was not a dull moment when reading The Diviners. Nor did it refrain from asking the reader to contemplate existence, or the realities of living. Can't wait for the next one!