I read this because I had it lying around, so I didn’t have many expectations to begin with; the many great things about The Diviners hit me like a giant wave of awesomeness and gin. While as of late the combination of YA and supernatural has not given the best results, The Diviners has a completely different twist on the genre: this is a thriller with a sprinkle of supernatural. No romance, no bullshit. Plenty of weird cults and weirder murders.
Set in the 1920s New York, the story starts as party girl Evie O’Neill is shipped off to stay with her uncle Will in Manhattan, after causing too much trouble in her Ohio home town. Her misdemeanor was revealing that a guy in her social circle had knocked up and abandoned a poor girl; this was only made worse by the fact that she unmasked him by simply holding a ring of his.
Between assisting her uncle at the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, and hanging out in speakeasies with her new friends, Evie crosses paths with many curious individuals. She is definitely the protagonist, but the story is told by several voices: there is Mabel, daughter of renowned political activists; Theta, a trendy dancer who lives with her “brother” Henry; Memphis, a nice guy from the poorer side of town; Sam, a thief/smuggler/person you should avoid, despite his many charms; Jericho, uncle Will’s mysterious assistant. No character in The Diviners is bland: each of them has lots to say, a well-built background and, most of all, secrets. As the title says, several of them also have dreams, visions and premonitions.
The novel doesn’t quite pan out as one could expect: the fact that these teenagers have powers isn’t quite the centre of the narration, which makes the first half of the story a long, long wait for something that just doesn’t happen. It takes quite a while to give up on the idea the title gives – that the book is about diviners – but the wait is absolutely worth it. The main focus is solely on finding and bringing to justice the Pentacle Killer, who has been terrorizing in the city. Evie gets to follow the investigation closely when her uncle, an expert in the occult, is called by the police to consult on the case. It seems like 1800s serial killer Naughty John has come back from the dead – but is it a copycat, or is it really a ghost?
Very different characters allow to cover many different facets of the 20s; prohibition is a major player in the plot and so are WWI, eugenics and the immigrants swarming to the US at the beginning of the century. The Diviners has not been written lazily: the accuracy goes from big historical facts to language and costume. It doesn’t spare philosophy and religion: Jericho reads Nietzsche and quotes him all the time, while Memphis drifts apart from his extremely religious aunt. “Why should I pray to God? What has he done for me or my family?”, he asks himself.
The devious killer seems to have religious motifs behind his horrendous crimes; the protagonists have to uncover the secrets behind a strange Brethren and its beliefs, but they also have to wonder whether ghosts and demons really exist, if their powers are real, what evil is really about. This might be considered a very long build-up for the characters to really reach their full potential in the following books of the series. If the “diviners” plot takes off in the next instalment the style of the novels will change drastically, which might not be a good thing considering how good and unusual this one was.
2012, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Goodreads.
Found via: I had heard of Libba Bray before and the book looked cool.
Suggested to: Don’t go there if you’re a noir/thriller buff. Otherwise, please pick up this book.