Review: The Diviners
It’s too soon to be declaring any book as the best of the year in any category. But! It can be said that THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray (Amazon) is pos-i-tutely one of the most enjoyable and promising of 2012. This is an urban fantasy, historical fiction, mystery epic that accessible to young adults while still managing to be entertaining to an older audience. Finding the rare gem like this is the very reason I read.
Evie O’Neill has been shipped off to live with her uncle in New York City. The exile is intended to be a punishment but Evie sees only opportunity in the bright lights of the Big Apple. The city is full of potential and Evie’s uncle is only concerned with managing the The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult – jokingly referred to as “The Museum of Creepy Crawlies.” Life is good until the police seek Uncle Will’s assistance with solving a series of occult-based murders. Evie has a very unique and unnatural gift that may enable her to help catch the crazed killer…if the killer doesn’t catch her first.
THE DIVINERS is pretty mature for YA fiction. I never imagined it would be half as serious as it is. Sure there’s the matter of a serial killer but I expected the supernatural aspect to overshadow much of the darker subject matter. That is far from the case. In terms of tone I found it very similar to Jonathan Stroud’s THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND (Amazon), one of my all time favorite YA books or I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells (EBR Review). The suspense and horror is quite real. Slasher flicks have never bothered me, gore is gore, but the religious themed horror films have always found a way to get inside my head and THE DIVINERS is no different. There is no direct violence here but there are some grisly murder scenes (nothing worse than displayed on television). No, the real creepy ingredient here is the realistic portrayal of occultism.
For an urban fantasy novel THE DIVINERS is mostly grounded in the believable. Sure there is mysticism but it’s pretty toned down. The serial killer and the cult that spawned him are a radical fragment of Christianity. History is full of stories of such End Times sects but this particular one really takes the sinister cake. You know what they say, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” THE DIVINERS never reaches hide-under-your-blanket-with-teddy levels of dread but Bray does maintain an aura of menace throughout.
This perpetual menace takes root in the shadows cast by the dazzling bright setting. New York City in the 1920’s is a happening place, buzzing with the energy of a post-war America. It is a modern age of industry, the flapper era, a time of hopes of fame and fortune. America is a young country, comprising all sorts of people with all sorts of beliefs. Bray takes all of this and weaves it into an imposing backdrop. From the attitudes of the era (good and bad), to the language THE DIVINERS comes off as authentic and sincere. After reading it I can’t help but going around saying, “And how!” at every opportunity. Read it and you’ll understand, 1920’s slang is jake!
THE DIVINERS is an A+ effort in every dimension, as urban fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, young adult, and thriller.
The characters are a perfect manifestation of the period. Evie O’Neill, “that awful O’Neill” is a modern girl. She never knows when to leave well enough alone. She is a party girl, a flapper with a devil-may-care attitude. She is a little spoiled and a bit selfish, but she’s got heart. Evie sees opportunity and she isn’t afraid to reach out and grasp it. The entire cast is as lively and varied. From the reserved and mysterious Jericho to the charming and daring Sam Lloyd, from the soulful poet Memphis to the sexy and resilient Theta. Each character has hopes and dreams, fears and secrets. Evie’s perspective is the main arc of the novel but Bray does explore events from multiple threads. I almost feel as though Bray introduced too many characters, given that only a few take part in the finale but I can forgive this as laying foundation for a series of novels.
And maybe that’s what impresses me most about THE DIVINERS. Sure this could be read as a standalone adventure. I just don’t know why you’d want to. The search for the serial killer is intense and captivating, fraught with intrigue and peril. THE DIVINERS reminds me of Larry Correia’s writing. Of course the protagonists of this novel aren’t running around slaying monster (or spirits rather) but Bray writes urban fantasy historical fiction with the same attention to detail and scope of imagination. There is a storm coming, and the events of THE DIVINERS are just the beginning. I would wager there are more books to come, filling in the features of these characters that just now appear obscured.
THE DIVINERS is an A+ effort in every dimension, as urban fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, young adult, and thriller. This is an epic tale (a hardy 600 pages) and even though I was able to read this one as an eBook for free I will be purchasing a physical copy for my bookshelf. THE DIVINERS features the tone of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, the scope of the MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL (EBR Review) series, and the heart of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (Amazon). And how!
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: A few curses, very very minimal
- Violence: There's no fighting per se, but there are some gruesome murder scenes
- Sex: Kissing is the most that's described. As a YA novel it should be noted that there is suggestion of a rape and an abortion (very very brief and mostly vague but still).
Want urban fantasy that thrills? YA fiction that matters? Mystery that captures the mind? Find it all in this one.