Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review of The Diviners by Libba Bray

Little Brown Books
For Young Readers
The Diviners
by Libba Bray
4 Scribbles

When Evie uses her skills as a diviner to reveal the deliciously scandalous secret of Zenith, Ohio’s “It” couple, she finds herself banished from town. Her parents, disgraced by Evie’s indiscretions and flapper lifestyle, expel her from Zenith to New York City, where she is to live with her Uncle Will, a professor and curator of New York’s Occult museum—the museum of “Creepy Crawlies.” Far from upset, however, Evie relishes her new-and-improved New York life and all of the rich culture it has to offer, until a twisted serial killer begins to prey on the youth of New York, and Evie finds herself in the middle of a gruesome and perplexing case.

The 1920s in the United States was an exciting period of change and development. The old America braced itself against the crashing waves of new trends. Bray incorporates these trends in her narrative, bringing to life New York’s magnificent architecture, the jazz music of speakeasies, evolving fashion, Prohibition, the arrival of the automobile, the public’s obsession with the Occult, and even a nod to the Harlem Renaissance.  Each of these developments would be fascinating to study individually, but incorporated into the story of a religion-crazed serial killer committing ritualistic murders throughout the city, they bring the past to life. The reader will find themselves riveted to an epic story—and in this case a potentially epic series. Horror films like The Haunting in Connecticut and Poltergeist should step aside—Hollywood’s got nothing on the gruesome, otherworldly carnage that takes place in these chapters. Evie’s character is wonderfully drawn, her reckless, sassy character is far from perfect, and that is what makes her beloved; she may be aware that her choices aren‘t always wise, but something about her that lacks restraint, indeed, craves destructive behavior, and in this way Evie resonates with a hidden part of me. While I may not rush into a haunted building, I can identify with her courageous and curious nature. Evie’s best friend Mabel, while sort of a limp noodle, acts as a needed foil to Evie and grounds Evie’s character in an important way. Other characters have their own stories to tell, like Theta, the sexy dancer, and Henry, her musician roommate, distant and formal Jericho, or Memphis whose mother died and father left him and his brother Isaiah live with an aunt, or sinister, Blind Bill, who “just wants a taste” of the power Isaiah wields.  While these individuals may seem disconnected with Evie’s fate, developments in the story indicate that more supernatural disasters are coming, and these events are likely to bring the entire lot together on account of the mysterious (government?) “Project Buffalo.”  The only failing in the novel was in one aspect of the resolution of the conflict, specifically when an accused character is released with a not-so-subtle statement explaining the convenient release, that “people will believe anything if it means they can go on with their lives and not have to think too hard about it.” While true, I’d have preferred not to see it used here as a way to save a character. Part of the fun of a novel is seeing how characters escape impossible situations, and I felt a bit cheated by that scene. Yet, with action that plows vengefully forward through exciting pages, creeptastic murders, characters that engage and intrigue, and more clues to another Diviners mystery to come, how could I not recommend this novel?  Bray scores again with another historical mystery and adds a generous helping of the macabre to drive it home.

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