The Diviners

the-diviners

The Diviners was written by Libba Bray and first published in 2012. It’s a paranormal novel set in the Roaring Twenties, which focuses on a flapper discovering her psychic powers as she faces a supernatural murder. The novel forms the first part of a series and is followed by Lair of Dreams (2015), though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Evie O’Neill has caused her parents trouble from the last time. Her “party trick” of divining a person’s darkest secrets from a personal item has led to nothing but trouble in her hometown and so her parents decide to ship her off to stay with her uncle in New York City. Although her uncle runs the boring Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (known to locals as the Museum of Creepy Crawlies), Evie is still thrilled. She can’t wait to meet up with her childhood friend, Mabel, and take the town by storm.

However, she soon discovers that a great evil has gripped the city. People are being found ritually murdered, missing body parts and branded with occultist symbols. The police are baffled and turn to Will for advise. When Evie comes into contact with an item belonging to one of the victims, she has a vivid vision of the murder taking place. She realises that she could use her power to help catch the killer, but how can she find a way to do so without making her superstitious uncle suspicious?

Meanwhile, something strange is happening all across America. Individuals with powers that are similar to Evie’s are finding themselves drawn to New York without even being aware of why. In Harlem, a young seer begins to prophesise a coming storm. Its clear that these Diviners are being drawn by some power far great than themselves, but what can it mean and how can they be expected to face it?

While I’m aware that The Diviners has received a lot of positive feedback, unfortunately it wasn’t for me. As this blog reflects my personal feelings, I’m going to be candid about my thoughts. However, if anything about this story tickles your fancy, I’d advise you to check it out and make your own opinions. I’d be curious to hear what you think.

I’ll also note before I begin that there are a few things in this novel that may be a little inappropriate for younger teens. For starters there is a lot of underage drinking in this novel, particularly towards the start of the tale. Evie and her friends frequently visit speakeasies, get absurdly drunk, suffer for it, and yet Evie is still all for going out and doing it again. The book is also quite nasty in places. While it’s not as graphic as some of the other novels I’ve reviewed, some of the murders are grisly and some parts of the story are very tense and creepy. If you’re sensitive to such things, you might want to give this one a miss.

To begin with the positive, I was drawn to this novel by the unusual time period in which it’s set. While Victorian London is a very popular subject for paranormal writers, I’d never encountered a story of this sort set in 1920s New York. Bray did a fantastic job of recreating the feel of this time, from prohibition, to vibrant music halls, to ingrained racism to anyone who wasn’t white American. The story is bright and stylish, doing a great job of illustrating how the different strata of American society lived and kicked back during the period, with characters including the likes of a flapper, a numbers runner and a Ziegfeld girl.

However, the novel was made hard to read by its horribly slow placing. Seriously, as interesting as I may have made this plot sound in my blurb, at times it was like wading through treacle. At 578 pages, this book is horribly long for a young adult novel and I believe that at least 150 of those pages could have probably been edited out with little trouble. While the murder mystery plot could have made for a fast paced and compelling story, this unfortunately frequently shunted to the background in favour of unsatisfying subplots.

Basically, the cast of this novel was just far too big. While it really should be Evie’s story, the third person narrative frequently followed numerous others. It followed Memphis as he grew increasingly worried about his younger brother’s prophetic powers. It followed Theta as she tried to make a name for herself on Broadway. It followed Mabel as she attended her parents’ Socialist rallies. It even on occasion followed Blind Bill, an elderly homeless man who grew steadily more sinister as the story progressed.

Unfortunately, none of these subplots ever really amounted to anything. Presumably, they were designed to introduce characters that will be important in subsequent novels, however I could not understand why they all needed to be fleshed out in this one. The result was that Evie’s story was just too spread out. It took 100 pages before the first victim was discovered and it’s not until the final 50 that the murder investigation becomes the true focus of the novel.

Because of this, the plot didn’t really feel complete. While the story line concerning Naughty John – the spectral serial killer responsible for the murders – was wrapped up in this book, basically everything else was left hanging. No other character received any measure of closure and the final chapters introduced a brand new threat – a nameless figure in a stovepipe hat – who I can only assume is something to do with the “coming storm” that was exposited throughout this book. Really, The Diviners felt more like an extended introduction to the series than a solid first novel.

The supernatural elements were also sometimes a bit underwhelming. While the word “Diviner” is dropped into the story at certain points, it’s never really explained what this means. Virtually every character seemed to have some sort of special “gift”, most (but not all) seeming to be some level of psychic power. However, these weren’t really developed or explained at all. I wish that more time had been spent fleshing these out, explaining exactly how they worked and if there were any consequences for using them. The only supernatural aspect of the plot I did find to be effective was Naughty John as his actions grew increasingly scary as the story progressed. I won’t spoil anything more here, but he really was a frightening villain

The characters overall are a bit of a mixed bag. I just can’t decide whether I actually like Evie. She’s headstrong and able to take care of herself, which are traits I normally like a protagonist to have, yet at the same time she’s incredibly naïve, gullible and thoroughly selfish. Halfway through the novel, she has a glimpse of clarity as she realises what a horrible friend she is to Mabel, but after this she doesn’t seem to modify her behaviour at all. I also didn’t really like all of her “flapper speak”. This never stops, no matter what the situation is. This isn’t jake and really got on my nerves after a while-ski.

In terms of the rest of the huge cast, some made more of an impression than others. I liked Jericho as his growing attraction to Evie was slow and felt genuine, however I’m concerned about the direction the imminent love trapezium between Evie, Mabel, Sam and Jericho will head in the next story. Few of the other characters left as much of an impression. While Memphis and Theta were amusing enough, their contribution to the story was ultimately minimal. Similarly, I really wanted to like Henry as he was the only gay character in the novel, yet he wasn’t focused on frequently enough for me to really get to know him.

All in all, you might be able to tell that I was disappointed. The Diviners was far too long and felt unpolished, as though it could benefit from a really good edit to trim out some undeveloped subplots. The setting held promise but the cast was too large and the core murder mystery was often pushed to the background. I might look at the sequel sometime soon, before I can forget who half the characters actually are, but I’m not that optimistic about the direction this series will take.

The Diviners can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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