Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (November 2012)
Read: December 06 - 10, 2012
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-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first.
With her new book “The Diviners” Libba Bray has created one of the most enjoyable, unusual, clever and addicitive YA novels of 2012. Set in New York in the 1920’s, the book transported me straight back into a time between the two great wars, an atmosphere of smoky nightclubs, flappers, eccentric characters and some mysterious spooky happenings in the city. It is the sign of a good book when you eventually emerge from it after hours of non-stop reading, bleary eyed and disorientated and sighing: “What a ride”, feeling incredibly sad to turn the last page.
Evangeline O’Neill, called Evie by her friends, is in trouble again. An independent, feisty and modern young woman of the swinging 20’s, she also has an unusual gift – she can “read” objects, is able to tell things from a person’s past by touching an object the person has been close to. Using her gift under the influence of alcohol at a party one night creates an unpleasant “incident”, which not only makes Evie a social pariah in her hometown in Ohio, but also alerts her conservative parents to her unruly behaviour. In an effort to show her the error of her ways, Evie is being banished to New York by her parents to stay with her uncle, Will. With New York being much more exciting than Ohio, Evie is not opposed to the idea, especially since one of her best childhood friends, Mabel, lives in the same apartment building as her uncle.
New York soon proves to be all that Evie has hoped it to be. Her uncle Will Fitzgerald, the somewhat eccentric curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult (or, as Evie calls it, the “Museum of Creepy Crawlies”) leaves Evie to her own devices a lot of the time, free to make some interesting friends and explore the city’s nightlife. But a dark and evil force is loose in the city, performing cruel and ritualistic killings which baffle authorities and have people frightened for their safety. When Will is asked to assist the police with their investigation, Evie is also drawn into the path of an evil force so frightening that it will take her and her friends all their combined efforts just to survive.
By using the third person narrative with focus on several different characters to tell the story, Evie being the main one, Bray re-creates the 1920’s as if stepping through a time machine and emerging in a smoky jazz club, afraid to walk home through the foggy New York streets where an evil force is materialising to take innocent lives. The author’s knowledge of the city is evident as she introduces the reader to New York’s most mysterious and spooky places, weaving a story which had me enthralled for hours (through all 600 or so pages), unable to put the book down. The roaring 20’s are perfect for this setting – a time between the great wars, when women started to fight for equality, when conservatism and prohibition clashed with the carefree era of jazz-clubs and dancing girls, when conservative religious beliefs were no longer enough and more and more people sought answers in the supernatural and the occult.
Evie is a wonderful protagonist. Clever, independent and spirited, with a quick wit that leaves a smile on your face, she is not intimidated by any obstacles in her way. Starting out as a rather naïve, attention-seeking and immature schoolgirl, Evie’s character grows with the novel as she learns more about herself and her unusual gift, and befriends other young people who are also “different”. The various perspectives round the novel rather than distracting from the main story, which is an art form in itself and so often doesn’t work for me at all. Whilst I did feel that some characters were used to set up the sequel of this novel rather than contribute to the plot, the side-stories were so interesting in themselves that I really didn’t mind.
By introducing the supernatural, Bray blends murder, mystery, folklore, history and a touch of romance to create one of the best atmospheric spine-chilling ghost stories I have ever read. Finally, a ghost story which really works – I am so often disappointed when I simply want a good supernatural thriller without an excess of gruesome horror. This is where “The Diviners” really delivered for me, and I loved feeling the goose bumps rise when confronted with Naughty John’s nocturnal forays into the foggy city streets on the lookout for another victim.
Be prepared that the ending leaves itself wide open for the sequel – however, whilst I am left eagerly anticipating the next instalment, I do not feel cheated by the novel in its own right. I will definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes any of the above genres – or simply an entertaining, clever and unusual novel. And I am (im)patiently waiting for the next book in the series …. Well done, Libba Bray, this book definitely made it on my list of favourites for 2012.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Allen & Unwin (Allen & Unwin Facebook Page) who provided me with a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review - I thoroughly enjoyed the journey :)