Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

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5 out of 5 Divine Stars

I don’t know when I’ve loved a heroine more – and I started out thinking I wouldn’t like her at all. I’m not a big fan of self-destructive protagonists but Evie isn’t just a trope, damaged princess. Her parents are stupid plot-furtherers — I mean, they send their hard drinking teenage flapper daughter to New York as a punishment. Yeah. Nope. However – Evie was a straight up sass-monster and she’s tough as nails. She’s also rash and mouthy, and her mouth gets her in trouble. She has a supernatural power that lets her “read” private things and histories of objects. She shows it off a little too loudly, publicly embarrassing the son of a man who has a lot of pull in their town. Her parents want to send her off until the story dies down.

So she’s off to stay with her Uncle Will who runs a museum nicknamed ‘the museum of the creepy crawlies’ in New York. But a gruesome murder, seeming occult in nature, interrupts her good times. A friend of Will’s on the police force asks him to take a look (and of course he brings his niece along… ? )  Evie helps herself to a bit of evidence, wanting to see if she can help, and is not prepared for the horror she sees. She strong arms her uncle into letting her help with the research and hunting down the killer – hoping she can keep her ability a secret, as well as drum up some press for her uncle’s foundering museum…. and why not for herself as well? It turns out that she’s not the only one keeping secrets. Will knows more about what is going on, his assistant Jericho is hiding something, as is Evie’s chorus-girl friend, Theta.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the 20’s and think New York is just a cliche place to set a story. Go ahead, send me your hate mail. To me, the 20’s and the flappers are just cheesy and cheap. I love the Victorian or Regency era, I’d rather have London than New York – I’m more into bonnets and petticoats than flapper dresses and cloche hats. But it’s an amazing time to set a story – it was after the first world war and there was a boom in industry and money was rolling around the country. The Follies and movies and radio stars were inundating popular culture – it was probably the beginning of pop culture and though sexism and racism were EVERYWHERE there were the first stirrings of people pushing at the boundaries. Women had more independence, Harlem was overflowing with music and art, the blues was changing the course of popular music. In short, I fell a little in love with New York in the 20’s.

There was just something about this mix of the time period and the energy and flavor of New York. The author takes us to Harlem as well as Brooklyn, to speak-easies and dance clubs, the Follies, the theatre, the dark allies between the buildings in the slums. The book touches on discrimination and the Jim Crowe laws. We meet a young man named Memphis who runs numbers for the mob and his little brother Isaiah. Both boys have magical gifts and I really liked their story but at one point, Memphis just disappears and he doesn’t show up again till everything’s over. There is a forbidden relationship that starts, but has no conclusion. It feels like he’s there to set up what will happen in the next book, but his arc has no conclusion. That is my only real problem with the book – I want more from Memphis’s side of the story- though when you are reading it, it seems like everything is coming together and will conclude at the end.

The main part of the story surrounds the grisly murders and there are several other characters hiding special abilities. Some are good, some use them to take advantage of other people. The writing is so amazing – it moves between this sharp, snarky, witty dialog and beautiful, sweeping epic description that is haunting and paints the story with a wider picture – we are constantly threatened with something just beyond the horizon, something is coming and it puts you on edge. So many of the “Diviners” have terrifying dreams involving crossroads, crows and a man in a stovepipe hat. I was confused at the end about him…but I can’t tell you about that or it would ruin it for you.

For the most part – I loved this book. The writing and characters are amazing, I fell in love with a place and a time that usually has me rolling my eyes. I thought everyone was well developed, they felt like people and they all had a great story going and background, but I felt like all these people had nothing to do with the end. It’s obvious their stories will go on into the next one but I wanted more involvement with all these great folks. I guess that’s a great problem to have, right?

Also – this book has a really diverse cast. New York is truly a melting pot, and it includes not only black and white characters, but sets up that New York has many neighborhoods and communities – Little Italy, Chinatown, and several Eastern European communities throughout. In America, we tend to think of skin color dividing people, but in the old world, there is a lot of racial strife between Eastern and Western Europeans and a lot of that followed immigrants into the new world. And there is a gay character.

Despite the few disappointments – still loved it, I still feel it is a strong 5 star book. I’m going right into the next one.

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