Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Date Published: 2012 (hardcover), 2013 (paperback)
Libba Bray, the author of the Gemma Doyle series (a series that I was complete obsessed with in high school and still love to this day), has begun a new series, starting with this first book, The Diviners. This novel is a thrilling story filled with ghosts, charms, and a paranormal murderer. We don’t know why Diviners are extraordinarily significant, but we do know that they have mystical powers: healing, invisibility/visual manipulation, prophecy, seance, and object readings. “Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ’em off for a coupla stones” (69) sings John Hobbes, our phantom killer antagonist. He is the prophesied leader of a cult group called The Brethren who have worship roots in the Bible, but who practice a religion that is a distorted and perverted version of what may have once been Christianity. John Hobbes has returned to bring about the apocalypse and to bring “sinners” to justice. It is the job of the speakeasy-loving and aspiring flapper, Evie O’Neill, with the help of her Uncle Will and his assistant Jericho, to discover who the brutal murderer is. Evie is graced with the gift of reading objects and seeing their pasts. Using this gifts she takes the reader through a thrilling and frightening supernatural tale.
I neither loved nor hated this book. I wanted to love it. The 1920s have my name all over it, so of course I’ll pick up any novel I can find that’s set in the 20s. The language (speakeasies, jake, dizzy water, the cat’s meow) moves me. I can’t get enough of it! Perhaps I’m being over the top, but I really had high expectations for this novel set in my favourite era. This book has the potential to be excellent, and it fell just a little short for me.
The positives: As a concept, what a great supernatural ghost story! A murderer, tried and hanged in the middle of a cult ritual to bring about the end of times, returns to 50 years later with the assistance of a Ouija board to continue the slaughter and finish his occult task. Brilliant horror story, and I don’t generally go for this genre. The novel is so well researched. From the first page, I was thrust into a thoroughly constructed setting. It’s beautiful to read. Libba Bray paints a wonderfully romanticized image of 1920s Manhattan during prohibition. What made the story so great was the fact that the history was so entrenched in the story. It felt real. I had goosebumps on every other page.
The not so positive: What left me on the fence with this book was any number of things that didn’t quite live up to the detailed world that Bray depicts. I loved reading Evie’s dialogue for the language. I wish I could talk like her in public and not be judged. Still, I found her flighty and impulsive. She doesn’t think anything through and rushes into scenarios without considering the consequences. “A murder! Oh, my. Let me just change my shoes […] I won’t be a minute” (97). It’s as if her grasp on reality isn’t very strong. Her attitude towards very heavy subjects is often flippant and aloof which I found to be extremely frustrating after the first 200 pages (and this book is almost triple that length). She does try to keep a brave face and she is quick to use her talents for good, and it is these few redeeming qualities that help her to grow on you a little.
What ultimately ruined this book for me (not that I hated it, but I was really enjoying it until this came up) was the plot lines surrounding Jericho. So I’m reading this supernatural tale–ghosts, spectres, powers, oh my!– and then (SPOILER) cyborgs…or something similar. Three quarters of the way through this novel, with no mention of government experiments or the like, we have man-meets-machine, right out of left field. We know all along that Jericho suffers from some ailment and I’m thinking, bad arthritis or maybe some sort of prosthetic. But no, we uncover this cyborg-esque plot line that’s so far removed from the rest of the story that I almost closed the book right there. In this novel, it has no significance whatsoever, other than to keep Jericho alive after bodily trauma (but couldn’t he have just lost a finger or been harmed in the leg instead?). This element was very unnecessary and it brought me a bit of disappointment.
Furthering the Jericho griping (I’m sorry I have one more complaint), the romance that emerges, seemingly out of nowhere, between Jericho and Evie, made little sense to me. I understand why he is infatuated with her: she is exciting to his passivity, she is boisterous to his reservedness. She is vivacious and life-loving. But he’s dull. He does nothing to draw her attention. What makes him desirable is that he’s off limits due to Evie’s friend’s attraction to him. He’s something she can’t have. Urgh.
Without Jericho (or at least without any major contributions from Jericho), this story would have been great. I would have loved it. There is a consistent underlying element of fear of the supernatural and fear of the unknown that carries this book. I read 500 of the 578 pages in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down. I would have really liked to see more of The Brethren cult, and I would have loved to see more occur with the various Diviners, but Bray has the next novel, Lair of Dreams, coming out in spring of this year. Hints were left at the end of this story that there are more thrills to come.
This book is three out of five stars for me. It’s middle of the road. It’s definitely enjoyable and exciting, but there is a lot of frustrations that arise along the way.