Remember way back when I said I was super duper beyond excited to read Libba Bray‘s 2012 The Diviners? Of course you don’t: that was somewhere else. Well, anyway, that happened, and it was awesome. So awesome that when I left my library copy at home when I left to fly to New York I bought my own copy from the airport bookstore. Yes. I dug it so much that I couldn’t stand not being able to read it for a week and spent actual dollars on it.
In a town house at a fashionable address on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.
It’s the roaring twenties, and free-wheeling modern gal Evie O’Neill has been sent from small town Ohio to New York City to live with her uncle while a scandal she was involved in cools down. You see, Evie has a gift which allows her to see into people’s pasts by touching something that belongs to them and, being the attention-hog that she is, sometimes she hits the sauce a little too hard and whips out her gift, exposing secrets better left buried. Unfortunately for Evie (and fortunately for the reader!) Evie doesn’t have much hope of hiding her gift when she’s living with her uncle, curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (i.e., the Museum of Creepy Crawlies) and the city is being haunted by Naughty John, a muy muy loco serial killing spirit made manifest by a poorly timed Ouija game (yes! yes really! I love you, Libba Bray). Evie isn’t the only gifted teen being drawn into the supernatural maelstrom that is enveloping New York; as their stories begin to entwine, it becomes clear that Naughty John’s gruesome murders are just a small slice of a greater evil that is approaching and luring in the Diviners, one by one.
God, where to start. OK, how about this: I FREAKING LOVED THIS BOOK. It was one of those stellar bits of paper and glue that I couldn’t stop gushing about to everyone who had the misfortune of talking to me for more than two minutes. It has everything: mystery; plucky, dynamic characters; seriously SCARY parts (I actually had nightmares); and some VERY slow burning and STEAMY romance. And. AND. It’s Libba Bray, and she is one of my particular favorite writerly flavors.
OK, let’s get into nitty gritty. First of all, Libba Bray obviously either a) Did her research or b) was channeling a spirit of some sort, because her roaring twenties Manhattan felt fully realized and captivating. I loved that we didn’t only get New York from Evie’s viewpoint; while her experience of New York’s speakeasy scene was a blast to read, I loved the balance of Mephis’ number-running as he yearned to be a part of the Harlem Renaissance, and the vignettes of the Irish gangsters and eastern European immigrants (hailing from my old neighborhood of Greenpoint, of course). The setting was infused with Bray’s obvious love of her city, and as a fellow New York fanatic (somehow, it took moving away for me to realize how desperately in love with it I am) I gobbled up every word.
The characters are all flawed and compelling. And I mean all of them. Evie is obnoxiously attention seeking, but beneath that shallow exterior she has a strong, loving heart and a believable reason for acting out the way she does. Sam provides an interesting foil in that his own family trauma is what led him to use his particular gift to avoid the attention Evie so desperately craves. Jericho is an absolute iron man of a mystery, and I have to admit that I had a bit of a crush on him. And, come to think of it, on Sam, too. And on Uncle Will. And on Theta. And on Memphis. And on Henry. And on EVERYONE. Character crushes all around!
The only character who didn’t make me swoon was Naughty John, who was straight up terrifying. The poetry behind his “offerings”was chilling in its macabre beauty. I would say that this part of the plot is what would make me hesitate to recommend this book to some readers; the murders, and the scenes leading up to them, are graphically gruesome. Sensitive readers who are easily scared will want to walk away from this one.
This is a pretty massive tome, and there were times that it felt like Libba Bray was trying to harness something almost too large to be contained. There are so many characters who are connected to each other in ways that the reader can only begin to grasp that at times it felt a bit unruly. In particular I felt like she didn’t quite put enough meat on the bones of the shared dream-walking sub-plot, or on some of the more tangential characters to get substantial page time (I’m thinking here about Blind Bill and Theta and Henry and that random green-eyed girl in Chinatown – what on earth are there gifts, anyways?). Whenever the plot veered towards them I felt a bit confused as to how exactly they fit in with the overall story arc, and while I do like that she dangled those little tasty story carrots to lure you into the next installment, I still feel that these sub-plots could have been solidified to make the overall narrative feel a bit more cohesive.
The final struggle to squish Naughty John and his cute little apocalypse felt a bit abrupt and maybe even a little too easy. It seemed like it was over in about two pages, and while I did like the implication that you get to choose what is holy to you without a formal religion, it felt like a bit of a cop-out in that it allowed the whole scenario to get wrapped up in a nice tidy package. I know that is vague, but I’m trying to review without giving away TOO many spoilers.
Final verdict is, this book is CRUCIAL. I can’t wait for the next book. No, literally. Libba Bray better be writing til her fingers bleed because I want that book NOW.
For music, I was trying to think of something period appropriate but screw it, this is my blog and I make the rules, so here is Shannon and the Clams‘ “The Cult Song” for those crazy Brethren cult heads and their zany beast reborn Naughty John guy. Chuckleheads.
Where I got it: The library and an airport bookstore